Where do stories come from?
When faced with this question, I began at once to think: they come from nowhere; they come from everywhere. They come, but they do not come deliberately. I fill myself with everything, and somehow the story comes at me out of nowhere.
Several days ago I watched the movie Edward Scissorhands. A perfect analogy came to me in the watching of that movie. The question: "where do stories come from?" has its perfect parallel in the question: "where does snow come from?" Those of you who have seen the movie will recognize the comparison at once.
Stories are born magically within, but not without work. Stories are the gems I mine from the depths of my soul, but in order to form them, everything I do and see, everything I think and feel, everything that hits me in this life and everything that surrounds me is compacted within my heart. It is compressed and buried beneath the tons and tons of rubble, the earth that by sheer weight turns coal into diamonds.
The birth of the story then has two origins: (1) I bury the coal with tons and tons of "stuff" - with everything I read, do and see - all the thoughts and ideas I pile up in my soul. Then (2) I dig for it in the mines of my own heart, and I find it there completely transformed.
I cannot explain this transformation any more than I could explain the origin of the snow. It just happens. But it is not coincidental. I must work for it. I must explore the catacombs of my own soul. I must dig, and dig, and dig. Then the gems I find are nothing more than raw hard stone. It is then that the real work begins. I must chisel at them. I must cut these stones into something recognizable by the world. For a raw diamond, a raw emerald, ruby, or sapphire, is nothing but compressed earth. It is in the shaping and chiseling of the stone that the transformation becomes complete.
A story is something that is carefully and skillfully crafted from the treasures buried in my soul. First I must learn the tools of the trade, namely, I must read everything I can get my hands on. And I try to. I have worked hard for a number of years reading novels in every genre and a great deal of literary fiction besides. I go to lectures, meetings, conferences, and gatherings of other writers to learn from them about the craft. All of that, however, is merely a part of the sculpting of the stone, the cutting of the diamond. The story itself is already buried inside me through years of contemplation, and observation of the world around me.