Out of the Blue

Where do stories come from? It’s an interesting question and one which I understand was put by a four-year old. I expect there are many glib answers, but a four-year old doesn’t do glib, so it takes your breath away for a moment. Kimberley Packard of  http://kimberlypackard.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/mommy-where-do-stories-come-from/#more-753  and the mother of the child in question, was going to tackle this the only way she knew how – with honesty. It was not going to be easy, in fact she compared it unfavourably with explaining the birds and the bees, and that’s saying something.

I may have mentioned before that a four-year old once asked me what made thunder. I am no scientist, but in the interests of honesty, I did my best to explain the theories of static electricity discharging. I did a rubbish job, because he stared at me with disbelief and went off to Playgroup, no wiser. All was revealed when he returned home. “You have that thunder-thing wrong,” he said. “Gregory’s mum says there’s a man up there with a big drum.” Now why didn’t I think of that?

So, explaining to children aside, where do stories come from? The answer is from all over the place. The juxtaposition of two ideas, an accident just avoided, a chance remark, a conversation overheard in a restaurant, all these and more provide the spark for a story. Beatrix Potter was inspired by wildlife. All her little creatures existed in the real world, but were translated, anthropomorphised I suppose, into storybook people with real lives. I went to the Beatrix Potter Attraction in Windermere earlier in the year. It’s a little Disney-like. Her world of stories translated into tableaux. I expect a lot of people would hate its sugary sweetness, but I went with a seven-year old, who was entranced. She left with a renewed love of the stories she had heard, determined now to read them for herself. To watch her fall in love all over again with Peter Rabbit was nothing short of magical.

Kimberley Packard says “All it takes is one thought to trigger that story to fall into our heads, like a falling star getting caught by our gravitational pull.” I like that image of a falling star, but even more I love the idea that she wrote in a comment to me “Maybe they are like apples. The ripe ones fall from the trees, but the stories that haven’t ripened yet hang on for a little while longer.”

Is that it? Are stories hanging around in the air, waiting for us to be receptive enough to listen? Where do stories come from?


24 responses to “Out of the Blue

  1. Peter Rabbit made me to click, the post made me read it all the way through. I like the bit about thunder being a man with a drum. Stories can come from anything, I wouldn’t know how to explain – least of all to a four year old!

    • Glad you clicked on Peter – he is so lovable.
      Yes, I thought it was an amazing question for a four year old to ask. But then they always do amaze.

  2. The Slo-Man just liked the notion of well-dressed rabbit putting carrots up his nose…. He does own a beautifully bound copy of Potter’s masterpiece. Like all stories, it can be read at different levels. And for the Slo-Man that is the true essence of a story – appealing to different people for different reasons, annoying and delighting, sometimes for the exact same reaason.

    As to where they come – they are all around us. Accomplished writers (not the Slo-Man) snatch them out of the air and put them down on paper or disk before they can escape.

    • The Slo-Man is missing a couple of words in the comment above so here they are:

      a, from

      you’ll know where they go….

    • Glad you love Potter and agree it is for everyone. The Potter attraction was a little sugary for most adults, but you only have to watch the reactions of the children to know that they have it exactly right.
      Also interesting was the fact that all the information was printed in Japanese and in Chinese and there were lots of youngsters from both those countries there. Apparently they learn to read English from the Beatrix Potter books.
      And agree about the stories – they do have to be snatched – and I think hoarded – until you can get them written down.

  3. Kimberley Packard says “All it takes is one thought to trigger that story to fall into our heads, like a falling star getting caught by our gravitational pull.”

    This analogy works for me. Most of my ideas come from nowhere, literally nowhere.

    Yet sometimes I feel inspired by a place. When I was writing my novel a few years ago I was stuck at a very delicate place and had no idea how to move it all forward. Nothing I tried seemed to work. One weekend I went to Hampton Court Palace and there, in the chapel, I physically saw two of my characters having a very pivotal conversation. Alone, these two people who had not had five minutes to themselves had finally the chance to talk.

    The next morning I churned out a 3000 word section centred around the conversation in the chapel.

    • The trigger! That’s amazing how that can happen. I had it with a piece of music once, which is a bit odd because I’m not that bothered about music when I write, but this particular day a compilation disc was on and it jelled with what I was writing. I played it over and over very loudly until I’d finished my chapter. It just gave me the push I had needed.
      Love the idea of your two characters in the chapel. We really have to keep our wits about us and pick up the hints when they present themselves.

      • I don’t get hints. I get sledgehammers smashing their way through my skull!

        • Well that made me laugh! – No sledge hammers here. But sometimes characters and their stories arrive fully formed, in a dream or standing at the checkout in the supermarket.
          I stood in the queue one day behind one woman. Every other queue was enormous and there was just this one woman, so I went behind her. Everybody else in the shop must have known her: she stood and half-filled each carrier bag and tied the top of every single one with a bow before starting on the next.
          The assistant was embarrassed, she was oblivious and I was in fits of laughter. Loads of people were watching, pretending not to, but she wouldn’t have cared anyway. In a world of her own…. That brought on a story, I can tell you. Except I won’t – might use it on here at a later date!

  4. Man with a drum? I thought everyone knew it is Thor with his mighty hammer Mjollnir 🙂

  5. Many of my ideas are triggerd by a location and the words ‘what if…?’

    • I’m a big ‘what if?’ person. My husband said once he never had any ideas and therefore could never write anything. We were sitting in a car at the time, and another car came hurtling past us in the 30 limit, doing heaven knew what speed.
      We played ‘what if’ for the next twenty minutes or so until we reached our destination and came up with all sorts of theories as to why he might be in such a hurry.
      And ‘what if?’ is a great way to break a block in a story too.

  6. reflectionsonlifethusfar

    Peter Rabbit is so sweet. I saw his picture and clicked to read your story. Very nice by the way 🙂 Nothing wrong with a bit of sugary sweetness either 😉

    • Don’t get me wrong, I love Peter and all his little friends. And the Potter Attraction – I was going anyway, the addition of a seven-year-old just leant legitimacy! It is a bit over the top for adults, but watching the children you know they have it just right. And all the tableaux are straight out of the illustrations.
      I took loads of photos, so a few more may pop up sometime… 🙂

  7. Thank you so much, Pat! You are too kind!

  8. Pingback: My Writing Journey: 7 steps from idea to first draft | patwoodblogging

  9. Pingback: Where did that come from? « Jennifer Neri's Blog

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