“What made you choose that?”
The question made me smile. The gentleman next to me didn’t ask it in a rude way. Maybe because I don’t seem like someone who’d be interested in the textile mill industry in late-1800s Philadelphia, he genuinely wanted to know why I’d chosen it for the background of my story.
Little did the gentleman guess that I’m not known for being decisive. My indecisiveness is actually legendary in my family. Even the old “Eeny, meeny, miney, moe” technique didn’t work for me as a kid. I have agonized for inexplicable lengths of time about a character’s name. Or a piece of punctuation.
But in the case of my story, I did not choose industrial Philadelphia in the late-1800s. I did not choose to research child labor and mill management. I didn’t even choose the story’s underlying theme.
It began with two characters and a premise. They both soon had a problem and a motive. Then, like the proverbial snowball, the story formed a back story, a setting, a betrayal, and before I knew it, I was cruising the Amazon (the .com version, that is) for books I’d never have imagined myself reading: books with shudder-causing titles like Proprietary Capitalism. Books I actually took a highlighter too, wedged notes in, and dog-eared.
Some days, when all I could see were pages of notes and a stack of books that didn’t always make sense, even I would wonder, “What made me choose this?” But then I’d remember. I may not have had a choice, but I did have a story I cared about.
So when the man asked me about why I chose industrial Philadelphia, I smiled and shrugged. “The story decided it for me.”
Have you ever felt as if a story chose you? Ever been surprised by the direction your writing took you? I’d love to hear your example.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net