The Ones That Burn Inside...
Donald Carreira Ching On Story Ideas
By Donald Carreira Ching
Write everything down. Simple advice, but in a world of iEverything, it’s easy to put out it off or store it away, those insignificant moments that make our lives so significant. Those moments: running into Aunty at Longs’, coming across that great bit of gibberish on the bus stop bench, turning a corner and finding Mango Man slumped in the corner eating a pop tart and drinking a Coke. Story comes from everywhere and nowhere, sometimes all at once.
I’m always interested when someone asks an author what inspired him or her to write whatever it is they’ve written. How do you reverse engineer the spark, narrow down the open door, trace the breeze that fueled the flame. In the midst of the chaos that is creativity, that single moment of concentration that feels like seconds but stretches on for days, is it really possible to find a single piece of flint? I might be able to recall what got me thinking about arson, but what burnt the building down is another story in itself.
Story is not made up of beautiful parts, but parts that burn well together, that create a fire in a reader that stays with them long after the smoke leaves their lungs. Those extra bits, as pretty as they may be, will only lead the reader astray. A body to focus on, taking them away from the real beauty that’s being composed. I find whole rooms sometimes in files on my computer. Characters not fully realized, scenes ripe for significance. Often times, you have to build the whole house before you realize story is in the corner with the broom.
I find too, that it’s easy to linger on these things I don’t wish to leave behind. You can work and work and work a story to death before you realize it just isn’t working, and even then, you still go back and try to find a way around it. I look at different angles: going from past to present tense, sketching out the perspective of a secondary character, writing the whole chapter again. It’s frustrating, but that’s part of it too. I always know I need to revise something when I can’t figure out why it’s there. What’s the significance, what’s it doing, these are questions I’m constantly asking. If I can’t answer them successfully, the part in question needs to be cut or changed until I can.
There’s always more to be said, but much of it can’t be. Among the inspiration for certain stories, I also think the individual writing process is sacred and difficult to explain. It can be somewhat broken down, but everyone’s different and every time can be different too. One of the most important things I learned early on was to develop your own voice and your own process, something that takes time and dedication, something I’m always still learning to do.
Write everything down. Not so simple advice, what do we keep, how much of it, what should be thrown away? Only you’ll know that for sure. Barf it up, bleed it out, whatever it is take it to the page, but leave enough so that when you return you’ll be pulled right back in to what you’re constructing, right into the rhythm of the flame. Set a goal: twenty minutes, an hour, right after the kids go to sleep and just before the news, create a routine to get things into focus, and keep it. The greatest stories are the ones that burn inside us long after we’ve finished the work, as brilliant and brief as they might seem, sometimes began with a bit of nothing that an author couldn’t help but notice and write down, and continued to work at every day.
Donald Carreira Ching was born and raised in Kahalu‘u. He received his BA in English from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and is pursuing his MA in Creative Writing. He recently completed his first novel, Between Sky and Sea, excerpted in Hawai‘i Review and Bamboo Ridge (Issue #98).