The Origin of a Story

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How does any story begin?

The Blue Jar started in the living room of a friend. For a few years, I took part in a writing group. Every Tuesday evening we’d meet at someone’s house or apartment, talk about writing, and try a few writing exercises. Usually someone pulled the writing topics out of a box. We’d all written a variety of topics taken from books and our own imagination and written them down on slips of paper for the box.

On this particular evening over ten year ago (that’s right), the slip of paper taken from the box had one word–marbles.

Marbles. Hmmm. I didn’t want to write about a game of marbles, mostly because I don’t know how to play the game and that seemed obvious anyway. The sound of marbles came to mind. I heard the sound of marbles hitting a wood floor. I saw them clattering down wooden stairs. And I wondered why would marbles spill down a staircase?

Someone dumped them on the stairs. I began to write.

And I had to decide why someone would dump a jar full of marbles? That the marbles were in a jar seemed a given. I don’t know why.

Well, someone would do this if she were angry, and so they probably weren’t her marbles. The marbles had to belong to someone else and she was angry at this person.

Who would that person be?

Her brother. If you had access to someone’s marble collection, you were most likely in that person’s house. And it made sense that then this girl had to be angry at her brother because that’s what siblings do when they’re angry at each other–mess with each other’s things.

I kept writing.

How old are they? Who is younger and who am I rooting for? Why was she angry?

She was 16 and he was older. And I was rooting for her. She had every right to be angry with him. He was a terrible brother. He was a nightmare of a brother.

Why was that?

And time was up.

I liked that beginning enough to keep working on it. And before too long I kept asking myself questions and each answer gave me more to write.

The result is a novel.

At one point it was very different. I gave that version to several friends, and so they might think they know this story, but I’ve changed it a lot. At one point the novel mushroomed to 130,000, maybe 140,000 words. I cut it down to 90,000 words. I added another 10,000 words. I cut a character and added a new character. I killed a character, and then brought her back.

I had one ending. Cut that. Wrote a new ending. Cut that. Wrote the ending that is finally in the book.

The one thing that didn’t changed was the marbles. All these years later, they still open the story. They still clatter down wooden stairs.

5 thoughts on “The Origin of a Story

  1. I like what you wrote here. Perfect. What a wonderful way to develop a story in your mind. Really good. Like Sherlock Holmes with his power of deduction. In this case induction. Love the way you think. Jk

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