Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Alchemy of Stories

 I think human nature has always been intrigued with the idea of taking any sort of basic raw material and transforming it into something infinitely more valuable. Alchemy is defined in my dictionary as a medieval science which attempted to change ordinary metals into gold. Most of us are familiar with the fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin, the cunning little fellow who was able to pull this feat off with straw, making him one of history's most successful alchemists.

My dictionary goes on to give a second definition of alchemy; any strange or mysterious process or change. That is where I believe writers, readers and storytellers may work magic.

Think of this. An author has a fascinating idea for the plot of a story in her mind. She mulls over it, daydreaming a cast of living, breathing characters. The more time she spends on this, the more real they become, with vivid faces she can see in her mind's eye and voices she can hear in her mind's ear. As their interactions with each other in the setting she devises for them take shape in her mind, she begins to think of them as some of her best friends. However at this stage, they are still confined to the inside of her own head.

Then the author decides to make a wonderful bit of alchemy happen. She transforms the characters and images in her head to marks upon a page. In my case, according to my family, it begins with illegible scrawling on a lined pad. I can write neater when I need to, but when I'm writing stories my mind races and the pen in my hand needs to keep up with it. Then these messy, handwritten pages are transformed to typed, 1.5 spaced lines on A4 paper. When an author works really hard, these may eventually become a novel or book with a lovely glossy or matte cover reflecting part of what the pages contain. Either that or an electronic book which can be transferred to reading devices all over the world.

Now more alchemy takes place. A reader comes along, likes the look of the cover and the sound of the blurb on the back, and decides it might be worth spending a bit of time reading this novel. He opens it up and begins reading the typed words and letters upon each of the pages. And the story ignites in his head. The characters described with those basic words and letters begin to live and breathe for him just as they did for the author while they were still confined in her own head. He can see their faces in his mind's eye and hear their voices in his mind's ear. Maybe he begins to think of them as some of his best friends too, at least for the duration of the story. He finds himself drawn into the action of the plot and can't turn the pages fast enough to find out what is going to happen.

We are all alchemists, writers and readers alike, of a more superior sort than Rumplestiltskin. When you think about it, a great, engrossing story has more potential to bless and change lives and evoke more tears and laughter than mere gold. It seems so ordinary on the surface, but what amazing feats of alchemy are happening at people's desks and in their reading chairs every day.

No comments:

Post a Comment