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“There is a limited number of plots (some say seven, some say twelve, some say thirty). There is no limit to the number of stories. Everybody in the world has their story, and every meeting of one with another begins another story. Somebody asked Willie Nelson where he got his songs, and he said, ‘The air’s full of melodies, you just reach out….’”
Ursula K. Le Guin, from Steering the Craft
As a science fiction writer, Ursula knew a thing or two about storytelling: She’s widely admired for her inventive, twisty plots. In Steering the Craft, a witty, pithy handbook, she goes on to give some simple but helpful advice on finding your way into a story:
“The world’s full of stories, you just reach out. I say this in an attempt to unhook people from the idea that they have to make an elaborate plan of a tight plot before they’re allowed to write a story. If that’s the way you like to write, write that way, of course. But if it isn’t, if you aren’t a planner or a plotter, don’t worry. The world is full of stories…. All you need may be a character or two, or a conversation, or a situation, or a place, and you’ll find the story there. You think about it, you work it out at least partly before you start writing, so that you know in a general way where you are going, but the rest works itself out in the telling. I like my image of ‘steering the craft,’ but in fact the story boat is a magic one. It knows the course. The job at the person at the helm is to help it find its own way to wherever it’s going.”
I love the relaxed approach Ursula has towards coming up with a story idea: “You think about it, you work it out at least partly… the rest works itself out in the telling.”
In short, you turn your idea this way and that, you play with it and then you are off and running. It’s rare, I think, that we “reach out” and find a fully formed story or that one pops from our head in full array the way Athene is said to have sprung from the head of Zeus. More often, in my experience, a wisp of an idea or a situation floats by and I grab it, then sit down and try to massage it and bring it to life.
Ursula’s message in a nutshell: Relax. Trust yourself. Let your story work itself out in the telling. Let it come to you instead of chasing it.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to bring this calm, playful stance to our writing sessions? If we just accepted that “the story boat is a magic one” and we simply hopped on board and let it take us for a ride? Why not try it today and see what happens as we all write on?