Every story comes with a trace of other stories it could have been.
This is a truism, a statement from our discussions this summer that really struck me hard. Not only did this statement sum up what we discussed in our class sessions, but it also came in a moment where I was preparing to publish a novel and I was struggling, as I read through it, with some self-esteem issues about how it would be received in the public. Let’s be honest, I’m still struggling with that, but riding on the tail skirt of this statement has helped me come to terms with where I can and will go next with writing, and to some degree what I love about the process of writing itself.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love a good story. I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb begging to be a part of a great story (ask my parents and the doctors—I made quite an entrance with the cord wrapped around my neck and trying to be a Smurf instead of a human. I don’t recommend this to any babies out there). By the time I was able to talk, I was begging to be told stories—I have the fondest memories of my mother reading me bedtimes stories from longer novels even when I was a toddler—Hop on Pop just wasn’t enough for me. But I didn’t stop there. I began to live in a world with these stories, sometimes pretending that the characters were real and sometimes making up new endings, or sequels. For a large part of middle school, Jo March was among my very best friends and I would sometimes ask myself what would Jo do in this situation? It wasn’t enough for me to just read the story; I had to be a part of it.
Which I guess is a tell-tale sign that you are born to tell your own stories, because you can see the traces of stories within the stories that you love so well. I remember asking questions about the stories like “What do you think happened to Susan in America after her whole family was whisked off to the Narnia/Heaven at the end of The Chronicles of Narnia?” It broke my heart to think that Susan was the only one left on Earth—having lost her whole family in one fell swoop. Not that Susan was my favorite character, but no one deserves to be alone. And at the end, she was utterly alone. There is a story in there, one I wish had been told, but one I’m also terrified of. Now I know Susan is just a character and she’s not real, but she represents millions of people who are real, and not every story has a happy ending when it is told to its ending—if there is ever really an ending at all.
For that matter, traces of other stories are never limited to just endings. One event can change the course of an entire story and if an author had chosen to write it another way, then the story would reveal other truths about characters than what we are currently privy to. For example, what if Pip had succeeded in getting Magwitch out of England? That is an entirely different story with great potential for…something?
The point is, stories are like life. Full of moments. Moments where decisions are made and people are molded from the events that happen in their lives. Each day we get up and we have the potential to change our story solely by making new decisions, meeting new people, or accepting new challenges. Or not doing any of that. Because just like stories we are full of potential stories that may or may not get told.
So as I’m preparing my novel, I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of stories bursting forth from the one story I’ve told and that’s not a bad thing. When I’m satisfied with what I’ve written, then I might as well stop writing altogether, because there will never be an end to the whispered stories that come in and out of what is and isn’t told. And that is actually quite lovely.