Blog of Pulitzer Prize Nominated Author, Jory Sherman. Get the latest information on his books, appearances and his candid reflections on writing.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Seeking the Seed


We are all storytellers.
That is our nature, as humans. We tell stories.
But, telling stories orally is not as difficult as writing them down.
When we write a story, we put our souls on display. We create people out of nothingness. We describe scenes that may or may not exist in real life. We tell a story that may have been told a million times over the century, but make it new. We make these stories our own stories.
Some writers say that writing a short story is more difficult than writing a novel. It might not take as long, but a short story shrieks out every mistake, every flaw in a writer’s thinking, every discord and stumbling step a writer may make.
To some, the short story is a daunting challenge. The primary obstacle seems to be a blank piece of paper, or a white screen on a computer monitor. It is sometimes difficult for some writers to know where to start, or even how to start.
Over the years, I have eliminated this and other obstacles. I have distilled my method into three key words. These three words can be summoned and acted upon, each in its turn, and help the writer overcome any and all obstacles.
The three words are: Conceive. Believe. Retrieve.
How do we first conceive a story?
The concept can come into the mind in several ways. For me, as for Charles Dickens, the first step is to write down a title. This title must have meaning for the writer. It helps if you write down several titles. This action seems to release that story that resides in the shadows of the brain. It gives the unknown and untold story a name. By giving the story a name, the story is no longer some nameless entity that strikes fear in the writer’s heart. If you can put a name to that shadow, you no longer need fear it.
Or, the concept can come from a character, a person who springs out of that same shadow and comes to mind. This character might have some trappings, a past, a look on his or her face, a secret she or he may be harboring. Or the character might just be an intriguing name at first glance, someone who might be interesting. For Charles Dickens, he gave great care to naming his characters, and once he had named them, they became real to him.
And, too, the idea for your story might be in the setting, a room, a landscape, a city, a home or even an institution. If you put a name to the setting, you have begun to create a world where your characters might live and perform those actions pertaining to the story.
So, you conceive one or more of these ideas. You name them. Now, you must bring belief to bear. You must believe in those characters and where they live, what they do. Belief is the powerful engine that will drive your storytelling abilities to flesh out your characters, put them in a realistic setting, even if it’s a world of fantasy, sketch and paint your settings and move your story from start to finish.
Once you have conceived the story, and believed in it, you can retrieve it from those shadowy recesses in your mind.
Conceive, believe, and retrieve.
These words can help you find the seed of any story and grow that seed into something people can read and admire and carry with them long after they have put the story down. These three words can carry you through life as well. Whatever you conceive can be created. Whatever you believe can prove true, and you can then retrieve the reward that awaits you with that third step.
It is said that everything in the universe exists. We must only conceive of it, believe it exists, and then retrieve it and make it our own or give it to the world. These are the secrets of mankind’s evolution, the seedlets that have allowed him to evolve from hunter-gatherer to homo sapiens, thinking man, creating man, scientist, explorer, discoverer, pathfinder.
If you follow these steps, your stories will come real. They will have advanced from oral telling to the printed page. It is then, when they are printed in one form or another, that they have the potential to last for as long as mankind will last.
I would add one more word to my trio of seeds. That word is Achieve.
So it is that we have these four words which will help us find the seed of the story: conceive,believe,retrieve, achieve.
Four keys that will open all doors that will lead you to the seeds that will grow into your stories.

Jory Sherman


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