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Blog

It All Began with a Picture

Stephanie Smith

I have a question for all you writers out there: how do your stories begin?

Do they begin inside you, with a striking thought, image, or scene? Do you observe something in the world that makes you want to put in onto paper? Do you imagine your characters to life, or do you see them on the street, at the Farmer's Market, the corner coffee shop?

Many of my favorite authors, it seems, birth their stories like this: a curious image arises in their mind, an image they see and cannot forget, and they write to discover the story behind the image.

Beloved author C.S. Lewis says that his enchanted world of Narnia began with a picture of a faun carrying an umbrella in a snowy wood.  "This picture had been in my mind since I was sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.'”

Kate DiCamillo was lying in bed one morning, her life in a state of depression, when she suddenly saw a magician, joined by an elephant.  They looked as real to her as anyone, and this curious introduction gave her the motivation to get out of bed and start writing again. The tale of these two characters entwine in what became The Magician's Elephant, a whimsical story about magic, homecoming, and belonging.

Sue Monk Kidd's award-winning novel, The Secret Life of Bees, began with an image of a girl going to sleep in her room amidst a swarm of hovering bees.  Right now I'm reading Traveling with Pomegranates, the author's memoir which gives the reader the backstory behind the creation of her bee novel. I find myself fascinated with the way Sue Monk Kidd collects the smallest of details and finds a home for them in her book.  Simple things like a pink house she saw in a magazine, a childhood memory of bees that hummed through the walls of her old house, and a story about a black Madonna struck something in her and she wove them into her novel.

As much as I love reading fiction, this genre has always been the hardest thing for me to write.  Characters do not appear to me in dreams, or start talking to me in the shower, or hover over my bed in the form of circus animals.  But I do often see images in real life that I pause over and tuck away for later, for a story that will be woven with bits and pieces of things in the world that catch my curiosity.

Here are some of them:

A man sitting on a porch that is covered with wind chimes.

The way a book in my hand vibrates with the live music of a cello playing in a bookstore.

A snippet of overheard conversation, “Once when I was seventeen and wild, I cut off all my hair.”

What sparks your stories into life?

Stephanie S. Smith graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a degree in Communications and Women’s Ministry, which she now puts to work freelancing as a book publicist and writer through her business, (In)dialogue Communications, at www.stephaniessmith.com. After living in Chicago for four years, traveling to Amsterdam for a spell, and then moving back home to Baltimore to plan a wedding, she now lives with her husband in Upstate New York where they make novice attempts at home renovation in their 1930s bungalow. She is a member of the Young Professionals of the Southern Tier and blogs for Moody Publishers at insidepages.net.