Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Magic of Stories

Universally and unquestionably, stories are the foundation of human culture. We have told each other stories since our ancestors learned to draw figures on cave walls with burnt sticks, and we will continue to tell each other stories until homo sapiens cease to exist. Every entertainment is a form of story: books, movies, music, television, sports . . . each holds an element of the fantastic. But what draws some of us to content ourselves with listening, through whatever medium we prefer; and others to become weavers of tales?

It is the only real magic we humans possess. A story can transport us somewhere that is not reality - the places we go may be better, or worse, or very much like our own reality; but wherever the story takes us, we feel something. The feelings that stories generate enrich our lives and amplify our existence.

I may claim to write for money, for the love of creation, for fans (ha!), or for a myriad reasons that are put forth by writers from every era and of every genre. However, the underlying reason - the only reason, really - is to evoke that magic, that transportation that is given to me through stories. I put everything into my craft, in the hopes that I can somehow translate that magic into words for others to use and shape into their own brand of magic.

I recently read a post on a writer's forum from a software programmer concerning this extraordinary effect of writing. He stated that programmers actually have a term for the period of transition between the world of story and the world of reality; that period of time when you're still there with the characters you've just visited (or walked in their lives), when you can't quite remember that you're really just a person reading a book, and not a boy wizard or a vampire hunter, a detective or a sleuth. Programmers call this transitory phase "context-switching," and will sometimes tell each other that before they can hold a conversation, they need a few minutes to "reboot their personality."

Stories are beautiful, powerful things, to have such an effect on us that sometimes we must make a conscious effort to leave them. I write because I want to draw people into that zone, and let them experience something different, something amazing.

In conclusion, I'll share with you a passage from a WIP that I'm not sure I will be able to finish any time soon. It is an opening that I hope proves transportive, at least for a moment.


He stood behind a windblown tent flap in the dirty gray light of early morning, watching two women with bright blue slickers and sour expressions struggle against lashing rain to bring down a great banner that spanned tall poles. Circus of the Night. Startling Shows From Dusk Til Dawn. See The Infamous Freakstravaganza – The Largest Collection of Human Oddities Ever Assembled. Conquer Your Fears in the World-Renowned Rumble Room. Fortunes Told and Games of Chance.

And in ominous red letters across the bottom: No Children.

Children. He thought the word described him, though he recalled nothing before this moment. It was as though he’d sprung into existence here beside the tent, a slender boy of thirteen or so, his mind churning with fragmented knowledge and powerful emotions that didn’t belong to him. Wet to the bone, and hungry—but not for food.

Shouts peppered the air from various points on the grounds, mixing with the rain and the rumbling diesel engines of the rigs parked around the perimeter. The mélange of sounds beat back the confusion in his head. Gradually, he became aware of sensations outside the cold of his soaked skin. A hot, jagged sting stitched his chest and arms. His legs throbbed beneath him.

Anger dominated his heart, and fear. The fear was specific, but made no sense . . . a tall, scarred man. Clear purple stone. No memory attached itself to these objects.

He blinked rainwater from his eyes and watched the struggling women. They’d managed to release one side of the banner. Now it flapped and fluttered in the powerful wind like the tail of an angry rat.

He had no idea why he knew what a rat was, or how it moved when it was angry.


s.w. vaughn said...

Boy, I get all poetic and nobody's around... tree falling in the woods and such. :-)

Marta Stephens said...

Must be all those twigs I'm picking up!! This is an amazing article SW. I love the analogy between the programmer’s transitory phase and a reader. Not every story has the power to do that. And no sooner did I think that, I read your passage. Wow!!! These are two hundred and ninety-two of the most vivid, powerful words I’ve read in a long time. I can see the man standing in the rain watching two women take down a sign, I can hear the rain and the trucks’ “rumbling diesel engines.” I didn’t really read them, I lived them each of the several times I read that passage.

Which WIP is this from? I must read more!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Good Heavens, I can't believe I didn't check in to read your post today! I must've lost my mind.

Anyway, this was wonderful, and I want to add to your article by saying that your writing, dear SW, unequivocably moves me to places beyond my imagination. Your characters capture my mind so much so that not only do I have moments after I read before I can return to reality, but these moments linger and follow me around for days, weeks, as I keep thinking about your people. I miss them when I don'to read about them daily.

So, where did this one come from? I loved it! Wonder where it's headed... and here's an official request for you to post more teasers for us to enjoy. What do you say?

s.w. vaughn said...

Aw, thanks, guys! I have to say, I'm somewhat shocked that you like the excerpt so much. :-)

This is a novel I've been tinkering with on and off between other novels. It's kind of my guilty pleasure project, I guess... I've heard, when I batted the idea about, that it didn't sound like it would be compelling, but I want to write it anyway. It's just going to take me a while. See, I've always wanted to write about a circus...

So this is like somewhere between Koontz' Life Expectancy and Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, with fantasy elements and my own brand of tormented characters. Alas, I expect I might have it finished sometime around 2012... sigh.

But I'm really glad you liked it!!

Kim Smith said...

Ack. Sorry to be the last one to post. Job- you know.

Love the imagery in this passage. You have such a great way with words SW. I aspire to be able to write with such beauty in something one day. I am so un-literary in my use of words it isn't even funny.

The programmer's thought on transitioning was so good. I live computers so I understand that "rebooting" theology.

Thanks for sharing!

A. F. Stewart said...

That excerpt certainly peaked my interest, and I could see the echoes of Ray Bradbury.
Here's hoping there's more to see soon.