Monday, July 5, 2010

Larval Beginnings

Was there ever a moment when you knew this is what you wanted? When you realized "I want to be a writer"?

I don't mean in a vague sense, the idea that it seems cool, that it would be neat to write books like the ones you read... but rather something specific, something connected with the actual writing, the act of storytelling.

For me it came with a story I wrote when I was a kid. Eleven years old? Something like that. Just a kid. But I was already obsessed by books and stories, already experimenting with the idea of writing. I'd written a few other things, of course. A few for school, a few on my own, mostly beginnings to fantasy novels with lots of action, fantasy novels that usually fizzled out after a few chapters. I enjoyed it, certainly, and probably liked the idea of writing, of being "a writer". But it was an amorphous sort of feeling, half-formed, untethered to real experience. It was more wish and dream than real idea or goal.

Yet this new story was different. It was written for school, but I liked writing stories for school. It was a vampire story, of course. So ahead of my time! Funnily enough, it might even fit in now in this age of Twilight. It was a little bit Lost Boys, really, a group of adolescent friends (and one older, teen brother) who discover that vampires are operating in their town and decide to hunt them down. They find the vampires lair, and one afternoon they sneak in and kill all the vampires in a big showdown even as night descends. The boys leave, tired but jubilant with success. All but the older brother. He lingers behind. As night falls he begins to laugh and laugh, and as the full moon slips from behind a cloud the brother transforms into a werewolf and howls...

So much for the competition, right?

That's the story. And there was something about it. For one thing, it was fairly long (40 pages or so?) and complete. That completeness was important, not just in the sense of having reached an end, but in the sense that the story was complete. It was a real story. A beginning with a hook, characters who had to overcome obstacles, rising action, climax, denouement... and that denouement was important. The twist ending! Perhaps, um, not the most remarkable thing to me now, but to my eleven year old self it seemed big. I'd done something, felt like I'd made the imaginary reader think or feel soemthing, evenif only a sense of surprise. But something. A payoff, a realization, something to take away from the story besides the simple pleasure of the action itself.

I'm not sure much of anyone even read the story, really. My family? My teacher, certainly. But there was a sense of the story as an abstract entity, a platonic ideal, that would create a certain effect for an abstract and hopefully platonic reader. I had a sense of having successfully created an effect, of being in control of words and sentences. A sense of shaping something, rather than being shaped by something. The success was a conscious one, rather than the somewhat accidental nature of earlier achievements.

I don't think the pleasure from having written that story has ever completely worn off. It was something concrete. It was the reality of a writer rather than a dream. I still have that feeling, I think, when I finish a story. That sense of completeness, of creation and control. From that moment on I knew I wanted to be a writer.

What about you?


Unknown said...

I remember as a kid writing a series of short stories called: "Captain Cool and the Hero-Wanna-Be League." I would print them and hand them out to anyone willing to read, and the joy of seeing them laugh, of being read, and of creating my own world became absolutely addicting.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

There is a point when an author owns that identity and changes from being a person who writes to a writer. I love hearing about those stories, those little moments, because they are so individual and speak to who that person is.

I only recently became a writer. Sure, I wrote - lots as a kid - but I never had that sense that I've heard so many authors say I've always known I would be a writer.

I'm not exactly sure when it happened, sort of like not really knowing the precise moment you fell in love, because it was such a headlong thing there was no making sense of it. But I do have a moment crystallized in my mind. I had ordered a copy of my MG MS printed at the Staples, to be sent off to one of my friend's kids to be beta-read. The Staples guy, in his white shirt and red Staples vest, looked over my order and handed it to me to check. He said, "So, you're a writer?"

I blinked. "Yes. Yes I am."

It's comical to me now - ordination by the Staples guy - but it was truly the first time I remember being asked that question and being sure of my answer.

Thanks for the lovely post! :)

Ted Cross said...

I had an itch to write fantasy for decades, but my love of procrastination meant I doubted I would ever actually write anything. Then I read George R.R. Martin and I found what I wanted. I wanted fantasy but done really realistically. That made me type out a chapter, and it took off from there.

Matthew MacNish said...

For me it was pretty much Gary Gygax. Gary and old JRR.

I was actually reading a lot of Ludlum, Clancy and LeCarre in 6th grade so naturally my first real story was about a spy, but he was really polite, and a family man, sort of the opposite of 007. Man I wish I still had those pages.

Lenny Lee said...

hi mr bryan! im 11 just like when you got started writing. ive been writing stuff for a long time but i didnt ever think of saying im a writer. last year i got a lot of people asking for copies of a story i wrote and it spread around at schools and lots of other places. that was cool. then people said im a good writer. ha ha. im writing two stories right now and one is almost done. my brother puts my stuff in the computer and he does the editing too. maybe i could do a for real book some day.

Bryan Russell said...

Congrats, Lenny! Welcome to the club. :)

And I was actually going to write a post next week about my first experience with a real audience, no so dissimilar from yours.

Raquel Byrnes said...

I always wrote. Ever since I can remember I was spinning a story, mostly in my own head. I realized that I wanted to write when I i was feverishly scribbling out a scene in my Biology notebook instead of taking notes.

It wasn't an assignment, the story I was writing, it was a craving.

QuiteLight said...

Your family read your story, Bo! At least, your glorious older sister did. (I'm pretty sure Mom & Dad did too.)

I remember being shocked. You were still pretty wild then, always outside, running, swinging sticks, launching pine cones, arranging elaborate action figure campaigns... But to my highly sophisticated, what, 14 year old self, your games & associated story lines were kind of simple. And involved a LOT of hitting.

And then you gave me your story to read. And I loved it. And it wasn't simple, beyond that it was about kids. It read like good young adult fiction. And your twist ending actually caught me by surprise, which was saying something, since I had been addicted to twist endings in adult fiction for years at that point.

So I have never been even slightly surprised that you became a writer.

Unknown said...

The progression went

1. my mom reads The Hobbit to me when I'm 6,

2. I fall in love with Star Trek when I'm 7,

3. My older brother runs a Star Trek RPG for me when I'm 8,

4. I find a Talislanta RPG monster book and make up a game for my friend when I'm 9,

5. I decide to write my own fantasy story when I'm 10. I recall it was about teleporting from an elf forest to the moon in order to find a laser to kill a dragon.

Then in middle school I started running actual D&D games, which gave me my first exposure to having a regular audience. I got rewarded with their approval when I told my stories, so of course I had to tell more.