I recently finished reading the book The Light in Hidden Places by Sharon Cameron, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the book, it was her acknowledgments and author’s notes at the end that I found most fascinating. One of her quotes that really moved me was, “This story was never mine.”
As an author, this really resonated with me. As an author of historical fiction, I truly am telling the stories that belong to other people and places. While my main characters are fictional and of my imagination, they are living in times and places that do not belong to me; they are stitched together using pieces of historical information, borrowed authentic events, and insights gleaned through the study of primary documents. But even stories that are not anchored to an historical period, may not be totally ours.
I imagine it can be argued that all writing, with the exception of a memoir or autobiography, is not truly ours. It becomes ours to tell, to share, to illuminate.
Because of that, the story and the characters become a living, breathing entity that are part of the process of writing. We must let them in. We must seek their input, and listen to their needs. That is why so many writers will tell you that in spite of the work that goes into the planning and outlining of the story, when doing the actual drafting, the story will sometimes take unexpected turns. Characters will change in ways we did not expect, and events we never knew were lurking under the surface, must be brought forward.
While writing is most certainly a mainly solitary endeavor, we do not do it alone. Yes, we write with our audience and our readers in mind, but we also share the task of writing with the story itself. We must listen to its needs and wants. We must acknowledge what it brings and be respectful of those who are part of that story, whether actual or imagined.
So as I finish this blog post, I am getting ready to spend some time with my current work-in-progress. To pull out the draft, and go back through it, listening to the insights that the story has to share. Let the story and the characters tell me what they need, for I am getting ready to do another round of revisions. For stories are like the lovely flowers growing in my garden, they will each bloom when they are ready and if they get the conditions they need.