Writing Secrets: Life is full of stories

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

Random events occur in our lives all the time. We make choices, we react to them, they are followed by unconnected occurrences, with no links to what came before or after.

It’s only in retrospect that we can see the patterns – and it’s from these patterns that we form stories. If we can start to see life in this way: as a series of patterns, or journeys, we’re looking at life as a writer does.

What confuses us is that many patterns are occurring in our lives at the same time. We have a fight with a spouse, we plant cabbages, we fetch a child from school… In retrospect, of course, we can see the links. Planting cabbages might have nothing whatsoever to do with the fight, and everything to do with a separate life pattern: building a new career selling organic produce. Then again, we might seek to gain equilibrium after the fight by planting cabbages.

Our reactions are not random. We fetch a child from school because it’s 2.30pm and school has come to an end. There’s a direct link there. Sometimes, though, the links are more subtle.

Our boyfriend laughs a little too loudly at a party. We decide to break up with him. There seems to be no link between these two events. They appear to be unconnected occurrences. After all, he did nothing too dreadful, did he? Why would his loud laughter lead to something as drastic as a break-up?

But deep down, we might know there was a link: a father who always drank too much, laughed too loudly – and beat us when we got home.The link was psychological.

Stories don’t consist of random events. There are connections between them, which take us somewhere. Your character (or you, if you’re writing about your own life) starts somewhere, makes choices, and ends up somewhere else, irrevocably changed.

Sort your own life into patterns and you’ll begin to understand how stories work. Don’t set out to write an entire life. There’s seldom much interest in that. Your life consists of an infinite number of stories. Pick one and show us the linked events which led you from the person you were at the start to the person you became.

Leave out the cabbages, unless that is the story you wish to focus on.

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: The portals of the imagination

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