17/02/2016 8:20 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

How Stories Happen And What They Do To You

Arvind Passey

I tried rubbing the edge of my study table, whispering, "Appear, my lovely story. Appear!" It didn't. I tried this with the walls in my home, with trees in the park, and once even slyly tried rubbing the end of the shawl of a woman I didn't know at all. Nothing happened. No story appeared like a genie to enter my being and emerge as words tumbling into sentences and forming plots and intricate dialogues. And yet, I still believe that stories are magical and live and breathe as much as we do and that they lurk all around you, waiting for the right moment to hug you. Yes, then kiss and caress you... almost cajoling you to leave all else and be with them. They are attention seekers, no doubt.

They want to stay in your being as an exclusive guest. They don't like sharing space with anything else.

The impact of all this is that the stories become us. We feel them as tingles, tickles and throbbing little thrills. No wonder then that Steven Moffat wrote, "We're all stories, in the end." But then stories are not clichés and so they have many more ways of reaching out.

"In the light, we read the inventions of others; in the darkness we invent our own stories."

-- Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night

There is a lot more to stories than their making surprise entries, of course. When I call them attention seekers I mean they want all else to be put aside. They want to stay in your being as an exclusive guest. They don't like sharing space with anything else. They navigate themselves like solo travellers always deciding where to go and when, without the company of other distracting thoughts. They love the darkened alleys of our mind as they get their act ready. It is only in the initial moments that they want the mind to go about conversing with all that exists, to ensemble the dress they want to wear, the food they want to eat, and the characters they want as company. They are like sponges taking in different experiences that they want to grow, but in the final moments it is only what they have become that really matters.

The mind just needs to accept this and then all a writer needs to do is to switch off all other conversations with existence. Stories know when they have had enough stimulation of the light of life before they plunge into the dark side and pull in the right words to give them a shape.

"If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people."

-- Virginia Woolf

Yes, stories are like water taking a shape that they have decided upon. This shape isn't much different from what the writer actually is... and this is probably why they reflect the truth of what I am. The stories are all about me and my fantasies, my dreams, my own truth. They are about how I interpret what I see about all else that isn't me. These conclusions are me. They may be good or bad, but they are what I am. If I see ominous signs all around, the stories will talk about them all the time. If I see the world as a peppy little gadget, so will the stories see. The stories see the world through my beliefs and, therefore, reflect all that in earnest. Yes, even if I know that my beliefs are wrong and full of lies, my stories will gorge on them happily and become just that. I agree with Hilary Mantel in Wolf Hall: "Some of these things are true and some of them lies. But they are all good stories."

Yes, even if I know that my beliefs are wrong and full of lies, my stories will gorge on them happily and become just that.

"People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it's the other way around."

-- Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad

Stories adopt our lies and dwell on them but in ways that do not project them as truths. They make the sordid and the unpalatable look exactly what they are and because writers are also readers, their mind does all the permutations and reaches new conclusions. So in a way, the story that I write gets "at the truth when the truth isn't sufficient for the truth" as Tim O'Brien wrote. This is what the real job of fiction really is. To change people, including the writer in me who thinks he has all the truths lined up neatly. This is probably why each new story slowly walks towards some new belief or truth that did not exist until two stories back. Stories play with accepted thinking and change it all forever.

Every story knows that it is going to change conventional thinking. This is what Richard Branson meant when he wrote: "Not so long ago, conventional wisdom was that a horse and cart was the pinnacle of human transport. Accepted thinking is always waiting to be proved wrong..."

"Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one." -- Terry Pratchett

This is what makes a story almost like an activist with a radical upbringing. This is what every true story wants to achieve. They are the mavericks who sincerely wish to convince everyone that imagination is the trait they would want to nurture and nourish. Thus with every story I write, I begin accepting the goodness of imagination because with every story that I read, a part of my imagination tends to get upset. Imagination is a massive property and we experience only a part of it. Stories help us familiarise with those parts where we haven't reached yet.

"The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story." -- Ursula K. Le Guin, Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places

Let me just say that my stories happen because I let other stories happen. Get it? Well, the final secret of writing a story is to read stories and make them live. This helps you reach out to areas that have remained undiscovered by your own experiences, and your imagination benefits. Every story is "a different kind of true", as Emma Donoghue wrote in Room.


Read more posts on Arvind Passey's blog: The Real Fiction

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