Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Do you choose the story, or, does the story choose you?

“Does a story choose a writer, or, does a writer choose the story?” I was asked this strange question by my friend. For a moment I was at a loss. Her question triggered a series of thoughts,  each more puzzling than the next.

This question is akin to asking what came first; the chicken or the egg? Do we choose our stories, or, do the stories choose us? I think it’s a bit of both. The initial overture is made by the story; it comes knocking on our door, eager for us to tell the world about it. The second overture is made by us; we mull over the story,  decide whether its worthy of our time and effort, ponder over the fact  that will we be able to do justice to it or not, deliberate on the theme, its suitability, worry about the characters  and then invite it into our heart, mind and soul.

From then onwards  with a single minded goal we obsess over what has become from a story surfing the channels of our mind into a WIP.

According to J.K.Rowling, the idea for her super successful series Harry Potter appeared full fledged to her while she was on a train journey after a weekend’s flat- hunting. In the crowded train  the idea for Harry Potter simply fell into her head.  

Stephanie Meyer saw a vivid dream. In her dream  two people were having an intense conversation in a meadow in the woods. The girl was  just an  average looker.  While the boy  was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. Both discussed the  difficulties  of  falling in  love with each other. The vampire  was particularly attracted to the scent of  the girl’s blood and was having  a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately. Thus started the journey of the Twilight Sagas.  In the case of Rowling and Meyer the story chose them.

For Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson was a result of the bedtime stories he would tell his son Haley. Running out of myths  he appeased his disappointed son by  creating a new story with the Greek Gods. And Percy Jackson was born.

For us who toil long and hard it’s a case of the writer choosing the story. I have not been  that lucky to have any full fledged character appear at my mind’s door. I spend all my time conjuring up images of my characters and books.

What about you all, do you choose the story or does the story choose you? I am eager to know how the  selection process works for you all? More often than not I choose the story, not the other way round.


  1. Mmmhh....great post once again Rachna!
    One of my WIP I chose the story, another two were dreams.
    I am not a dreamer but when I do dream, the dream is usually very vivid and I take note of it...
    My fantasy WIP though came by way of meeting the main characters first and then the story/plot building from there.
    So I guess from the above, my answer would be a 40/60: 40% I choose the story and 60% the story chooses me.

  2. Ooh that is a hard one. I personally think the story chose me. I have tried to stop what I am doing and write something else more than once. But I cannot commit to any other story until this one is don't. It won't let go of me.

  3. Great post again, Rachna. Yeah, that's the way it works with me, Tabitha. The story I'm working on right now just started as a kernel, and I put it away because I was working on something else. But it kind of elbowed its way back and insisted on coming first, so it won. The book I was working on also came to me in a dream. It's a re-write at this point, which is probably why I can let it go until I get this draft out. But most of my stories come that way to me. An idea just pops into my head and then lodges there and forces me to pay attention.

  4. You get me to thinking. My last story chose me for sure. I knew I had to write it. This one is growing but I chose it to start.

  5. For me, I think the idea gets planted from some small phrase I hear. When it doesn't let go I know I have to examine it and see if there is enough to keep me excited about chasing it down and putting the pen to paper.

    I like what Elizabeth said about ideas popping into her head, lodging there, forcing her to pay attention.

  6. I have to say the story chooses me more often than not. When I try to force it, impose my rules on the story, then it has a tendancy of turning unnatural and stiff.

  7. Kim, I envy your 40/60 ratio. Mine is 10/90. 10% of the time the story chooses me and 90% of the time I choose the story.

    Tabitha, you are another person I envy. Why can't stories choose me?

    Elizabeth, for me an idea initially pops into my head and then it keeps growing and growing until I put pen to paper.

    Terri, I think its a great idea if stories choose writers because then I feel they are easy to write. So far only two stories chose me and both were start to finish projects without hiccups.

    Rahma, I see that the two of us have plenty of similarities. For me too several times ideas get implanted from phrases I hear or things I see.

    Lynda, I agree with you that when we impose our rules on the story it does have a tendency to turn unnatural and stiff and seems forced. It just doesn't have a smooth flow or feel to it.

  8. Sometimes the story chooses me. Sometimes I choose the story. I try not to question it too much.


  9. I've never thought of it this way! I'd have to say I choose the story, then it takes on a life of it's own in my head.

  10. Every story I have written chose me. It's very strange. If I try to choose a story (even my picture books), I cannot write it. That being said, I do believe that if a writer chooses his/her story, it can still be written beautifully. I think it's all in the way we look at it.

    But I'm thankful that the story picks me out to write it. It's so much fun. :)

  11. Hey, I'm in total control here. My characters are completely under my guise and...Oh wait I gotta go, my MC needs a latte.

  12. What a fabulous question, Rachna. And I just loved getting a glimpse at some of those famous authors and how their stories came to them. But I think I fall into the camp where I usually need to look for my story. I dig into research books, biographies, old musty history books. And within the pages, I find the treasures that eventually wind their ways into my stories.

  13. What a fascinating question. A friend and I were just talking about this yesterday! For my current WIP, the story started as a seed - based on a relatively benign experience I had attending a reunion; it simply got me thinking about people's reactions. Then as I thought about the concept over the next 6 months, other "pieces" of the puzzle - stories, anecdotes, interesting events I'd learned of/encountered - seemed to all fall into place as I thought more about my theme. It's quite an exhilarating feeling when things 'fall into place." One of those key "pieces" literally came to me upon waking. What a gift!