Creating a short story

When people learn that I write I’m usually asked some standard questions.

• What do you write about/what have you written?
• Where can I find your work?
• How do you come up with ideas for your stories?

With the release of my newest short story “Strange Seasons of the Wellspring,” I figured now was a good time to address the last question and to revisit the creative process for this particular story. If you haven’t already done so, go read it and come back.

I tend to write more in the summer because that’s when I have the most uninterrupted time. But as summer started I began to fully realize how mentally tired I was feeling. I threw myself into a bunch of physical labor (garden looks great; cutting up wood; pulling carpet up is not fun) but the problem persisted. I needed to find a way to recharge myself. Although I’ve been working on a host of writing projects I hadn’t really tried to start anything new lately. I decided this was probably my best option.

I went about getting things done and several ideas popped into my head, which I duly jotted down. Where did the ideas come from?

I’m a big proponent of allowing my subconscious to guide me. To make this work, you’ve got to allow yourself to live a little and engage your curiosity. Rarely does sitting alone staring at a wall inspire me. I had to ask myself questions. What type of story did I want to tell? What would make it significant to me? What did I want it to convey? I also had to allow myself to find answers.

One of the things I really enjoy about writing short stories is that I get to play. I try to pick one element to focus each story on: tone, setting, character, theme(s), concise writing, dialogue, etc. Since I was going to create this story as a way to recharge myself, I began to consider places or objects that express the idea of renewal, of slowing down, of a basic connection to a natural element.

Time is a strange companion when you’re a writer.  It can be your worst enemy or greatest asset. The pressure it creates can seem crushing or giving yourself permission to use it as an ally can be immensely freeing. I decided to allow myself to slow down. I’ve been cooking new recipes (Sweet Potato and Tofu Jambalaya anyone?) like mad lately, both for the simple pleasure of trying something new and as a different way to be creative.

I’m finally finishing reading a book I started last summer titled The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton. It has its moments but I’ve been frustrated by a similar pattern for each of these short stories. I like the settings, the mood, and the set up for each of the stories but have been significantly disappointed by each of the endings. Twenty plus stories and the same pattern plays out over and over again. They’re either incoherent or nonsensical, almost like she got bored at the end of each. Or this was just the accepted narrative style of the day or ghost stories. So why keep reading? Again I don’t hate the book but I’m curious to see if any of these will have a strong finish. Since there are so many of the same type of story it’s fascinating to watch her shuffle basic elements around.

I’ve also been watching a lot of documentaries thanks to Netflix. One that I watched was Antarctica: A Year on the Ice. It’s full of gorgeous shots of a part of the world few will ever see in person. Glimpses into life in such a singular climate really got me thinking about the seasons and how they impact our perceptions of life and time. Sitting on the porch swing a few evenings later, watching the ample firefly population in my backyard light up the night, I decided I’d frame my new story by having separate tales in each season. But I still needed something more to bring it all together.

I guess my subconscious was still pondering the renewal question because out of nowhere one night the image of a well popped into my head. I’ve been thinking about taking out the old sketchbook lately so I figured it was nothing more than that. I looked up some well pictures on Google images and began to reflect on the role wells have played in the course of human history. Wells are gathering places, an oasis, have involved stories of spirits (good or bad) haunting them, they have been the backbone of communities, scenes of drama (Baby Jessica), are sources of hope or wishes, can symbolize the health or well-being of a place or people, or even have Goonies at the bottom of them giving dramatic speeches (“It’s our time down here.”). I had my unifying image.

How to make it more interesting? Did I want to have this spread across the globe at several wells or in one location? What was the time period? What types of people were meeting at this well and why?

I settled on one setting with vignettes of people at different points in life, facing different problems, realities, fears, and hopes. I also decided each should present characters tied to a different art form (music, jewelry making, painting, and writing). The basic story elements for summer and spring came first. I wanted at least one story with young lovers. Several years ago I saw another documentary about the choice young Amish must make about staying with or leaving their way of life. Recalling this I did some basic research and incorporated some of the details into the story. I wanted to make spring and the idea of renewal a bit more nuanced so the relationship between the characters at different phases of their lives both explore renewal and change.

Winter was going to be a different story but more senseless shootings in real life changed the narrative. It was the hardest to write. I had about four different ideas for the autumn part and never really liked any of them strongly enough so I decided to use the season as a frame, hence the nods to “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Also, undoubtedly influenced by the ghost stories I’ve been reading, I decided that time in these stories would be more fun if left open to interpretation by the reader. I will admit that I wasn’t fully sure what the exact resolution would be when I started writing but was pleasantly surprised with how the more mysterious elements formed the conclusion.

So that’s the story of my story.

If you write it may mirror elements of your own creative process or simply offer a glimpse into the creative process of this writer. My goal is to release at least two more short stories this summer so keep checking back or visit the Short Stories and Poems page and see what’s there.