“Birth” of a Story
Today is my birthday. (Thanks. No need to send anything.) It got me thinking about birth of a different kind though.
When is a fiction idea “born? Our stories start somewhere, but is there a definitive moment of their birth for the writer?
Is our story born the moment the first flash of an idea enters our mind? Obviously this is the first transcendence of ordinary thinking necessary for all stories, even if they are reboots of something else; that seed must be planted in our minds.
Yet not all seeds take root. I myself have shelved my most recent attempt at a novel. I may come back to it someday of course, but right now it’s in limbo. There are plenty of ideas for stories of mine that I will almost certainly not go back to, however. Was the story still “born” even though it will never truly exist?
Perhaps completing a first draft represents the so-called birth of a story. First drafts mean different things to different people, of course. Some embrace the “shitty first draft” while others correct it as they go along. In either case, perhaps this is when an idea is born in earnest. That is, after all, the first fully formed version of said story, even if heavy edits follow.
Then again, if you edit something severely, is it the same story, or has it become something else? If you see it as an evolving entity, like a person, than the story’s birthday may indeed be the day you finish that first draft. But if subsequent edits feel like an entirely different thing you may not consider it a “birth” until you’ve made your own final edits, as I recently did with my first novel.
At this point, I am self-publishing. Maybe a story is born once it’s available to read? Self published, formatted and such. Those who traditionally publish likely consider the “birth” of their project the moment it hits brick and mortar bookstores. On the other side of that coin, is a fully polished, formatted and available book in either publishing world truly “alive” if nobody has ever read it? Perhaps a story is born when a certain number of people have read it.
Or here’s a thought; a story has multiple birthdays. Every time someone reads what we have written, and feels alive, or moved, or thoughtful because of it, a story is born anew. It takes on the life of both we, the authors, and the reader. It seeps into a reader’s own artistic view of the word, the words make up quotations in their conversations, and the characters inspire an action in actual lives. When the countless spinning orbs of a chaotic universe are set on a whole new course by which they shape the orbits of innumerable subsequent objects because of a story we have told to our fellow people.
I can’t speak for anyone but me, but that sounds like a birthday to me.