"For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn".
These are the six words that Ernest Hemingway reportedly considered his best work throughout his entire, illustrious career. Succint, emotional and hard hitting with a beginning, middle and end, all in just six simple words. Perfection!
I love that ability to get across so much in one short sentence. Straightaway, the reader is catapulted into a world of questions and endless possibilities. Was there a baby? Did it die? During pregnancy or after birth? Who bought the shoes? The possibilites, questions and dilemmas that are provoked by this statement are endless and for me, that itself is storytelling in its purest form.
Storytelling at it's best is simple and relatable. The biggest goal when writing (and I can only speak for myself here) is to make the reader care. And the way to do this is not to overcomplicate things.
A fellow lover of words provided me with a beautiful quote by Harlan Coban in a comment after my previous blog entry: "It's a corny cliche but anything can stimulate an idea. The hard part is recognising which ideas will work and developing that idea into a story".
That quote sums up writing for me. In fact, that quote just sums up me in general. If you've read my previous entries you'll know that I'm a chronic daydreamer and I take great joy in trying to see the extraordinary moments and endless possibilities in many ordinary day to day moments.
For example: I commute to work. It's dull, it's frustrating and it's costly but it has to be done. I drive a 50 mile round trip on a daily basis, most of which is on a motorway and there is quite often collisions and subsequent tailbacks. Sometimes when I eventually crawl past the accident in the hard shoulder I'll see the people standing outside their cars on mobile phones, maybe talking to Gardai (Irish police) or being attended to by paramedics and I think to myself "I wonder where they were due to go today?"
Maybe the guy on his mobile was on his last chance in work, slept it out and was speeding to make up for lost time and hit the barrier. Now he's calling into work trying to explain to his irate boss that he was in an accident but the boss has heard him cry sheep too many times.
Or the guy talking to the Gardai, maybe he had a few pints last night out celebrating his wife's pregnancy. Now he's being breathalysed, arrested and at risk of losing his job and his licence.
Or the woman being tended to by paramedics, maybe she was racing home from her lover's house before her husband arrived home from work to try and prevent him from finding out her naughty secret.
I know what you're thinking: with all these scenarios floating around in my head while driving at high speed, how the hell have I never caused a crash? That is certainly one of life's great mysteries...
Anyway the point of this blog is to try and convey that every moment, no matter how seemingly dull and tedious, always has the potential for a rich story. I find that life becomes a bit more interesting if you look at it from a questioning stance. I mean, life would be pretty boring if we took things at face value.
Ask yourself these questions: Is that a ghost rattling the pipes at night? Is the man in the car behind me following me and if so, why? Is my family really my family or is it all just a cover up? Are two of my work colleagues having an illicit affair? Is that flashing light in the sky a UFO?
And the mother of all questions, the question that triggered the idea for my novel: Is there life after death? And if there is, do some of us know more about it than we let on? Who knows!
Because the way I see it, if you can see the extraordinary in the ordinary and truly show your readers the magic that's possible in their own lives, you can (hopefully) make them really care about the story you want to tell.
So if you can take one thing from reading this blog it would be to open your eyes a little bit more to the realm of possibilties that surround you on a daily basis, hour by hour, minute by minute. Never forget how fascinating the people you converse with (or even just walk by) are - you'll never get to know what it's like to walk a day in their shoes. But just imagine if you could...
Of course, don't question everything around you all the time... Take a break from it every now and again, no need to get obsessed with it! You don't want to risk your mental health... I don't want to be held accountable for that! :)