dating the perfect story

Starting a new story is a bit like going on a first date.

Maybe you exchanged numbers during a party, or you were matched by friends with good intentions, or perhaps it’s a long friendship that’s transformed into a deeper attraction. Sure, you might exchange a blizzard of emails or texts in advance of your first date, but meeting your potential romantic interest in the flesh will determine if you will pursue the relationship any further.

So it is with stories. A lot of the time the characters or the core idea have been flirting with you for some time. While you’ve been completing other projects it’s been pouting its lips at you from the darker corners of your mind. Since it is competing with other hopefuls, it will give you its best pitch (and will stick its rivals in the ribs to get its way): “The words will flow if you choose me. Look at my story arc, isn’t it gorgeous? You even know how it’s going to end. You’re so smart that all that research is going to be a doddle. Don’t write that other story – steampunk fairytales aren’t even retro yet.”

So, you succumb to the tantalising future of you and the story, arm in arm, drinking cocktails and picking up awards, and commit to writing the story.

Unfortunately, like first dates, some stories that look like a sure thing turn out to be devilishly complicated and borderline psychotic, and others that on a superficial glance appear plainer and linear become an intricate and consuming storyline you want to bring home to mother.

Each time you begin with great hope and determination. Sometimes the story and you just don’t fit together. It’s all fizz and no substance. The character is cool, but the story is disjointed and thready. You can’t write beyond the first paragraph. Then there is the more common variety: you and the story work together through your ups and downs, but you’re both sensible and smart, and you know you can see your way through the thematic shifts and line edits to end up with a satisfactory experience.

But sometimes there’s that rare one, the one all writers chase. It’s the perfect story. It might appear naked and incandescent after a night’s sleep, or walk out of a crowded rain-soaked street, whole and perfect. You know each other on first sight, and the experience is magical and effortless. It doesn’t even require much editing afterwards.

So, later on, as you struggle with your latest creation, you think of that lovely gift from your unconscious, and wonder when the next perfect ten is going to show up. The only thing you can do is grit your teeth, and work through your issues. The hard-won effort can be just as satisfying, and the muse-bolt only strikes after the tough battles.