The process that goes on behind the scenes as a book goes from the mind to pages is a fascinating one, varying from author to author. For some authors a story starts as a picture. It did for C.S. Lewis, as he states in his essay, Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be Said:
“Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion.”
For other authors legends or myths can spark an idea that leads to a whole new story. Lloyd Alexander draws inspiration from Welsh mythology while Rick Riordan finds a new tale to tell from Greek, Roman and Egyptian myth.
For me a story might start while tinkering on the engine of an old International Harvester. There is too much starter fluid in the carburetor, but I’ll signal to a buddy to crank the key anyway and then backpedal like a electrocuted monkey on a unicycle as the front of the truck goes up in flames. Sitting on the ground in front of a flaming vehicle with no eyebrows and little dignity could ignite a story. But it might be a story about an apprentice’s first day cleaning dragon’s teeth before the annual Dragon Day Parade, and not my own hopeless endeavors at mechanicing.
Or a story could start from a comfortable chair in the den. My eyes wander over a crack in the wall and I wonder if that crack extends through the whole universe. A story of crawling through thick, sticky mud with stinging insects darting around a panicked face and rain pelting the rain-forest canopy far above. Fear starts to beat hope as the sound of prehistoric hunters crash through the tangle of jungle tracking the scent.
Or a story might start from a scene or image, much like a scene from a movie. It might be a blind girl standing in a field, dust swirling around her feet, with the first storm in years rolling across the plains toward her and the first great drops of rain just coming down around her like the beginning notes of a wild and comforting symphony.
What’s her story? Why hasn’t it rained in years? Was she born blind? If not, what does she remember of sight?
And a story unfolds. A king goes missing, a powerful otherworldly daemon seeks to crush heroes who stand in his way and a rebellion is sparked…