The story that wants to be written

There is a story within me that needs to be written. This is a phrase I’ve heard a lot of times before, and have understood at a superficial level to mean “I want to tell this story”, but recent reflections have given me a deeper understanding of it.

There is a story within me that I keep trying to write. The same story, in essentials. A relationship between two individuals. At the beginning of the story they are divided by a moral or ideological divide. At some point one is captured by the other, and both gain new perspectives about one another. A third entity comes to the fore whose ideals and morals are far more removed from either party than they are from one another, and who becomes the antagonist to both, though perhaps not to both at the same time. The character of the original two whose morality is greyer than the other’s may have worked for this antagonist at some point, knowingly or unknowingly, though certainly unknowing of the depths of the antagonist’s moral depravities. At some point, the earlier captor-captive relationship between my protagonists is reversed, and again both gain greater insight into the other. Subsequently, they unite against the antagonist, and use different skills, including those gained or honed as a direct result of their moral position at the start of the story, to defeat the antagonist.

The above summarises what I was attempting to do with the Fiarra story last year. It summarises, too, the story, inspired by a dream, I’ve been entertaining myself with as I fall asleep for the last year. It also summarises a fanfiction I worked on some time ago, and a story called General’s Secret that I was writing during my third and fourth years at university – five years ago. The same essentials were also the basis for other stories that did not make it as far as these I have named. Some elements, in particular the captor-captive switcharound scenario, appeared in even earlier stories, going back perhaps as much as a decade, maybe even more.

This is something that I’ve had stewing for a very long time, and it’s taken me until now to realise the full extent of it. I was aware of the captive-captor relationship appearing in a lot of what I have written, but not until my recent examination of my stories did I realise how deep it went.

Now I have a question I need to answer: what do I do about it?

I don’t think I can move past it and write something without it. Not anything substantial, anyway, and not to completion. How can I work on a story when there’s another story burning inside me? Any attempt would either fizzle out quickly, or end up incorporating these same elements all over again, and I am left, once again, without progress.

The only solution, therefore, is to write it. But which version of it? I’ve written two attempts at the Fiarra version, both stalling at 40,000 words and not even a quarter of the way through; it’s been so long since I wrote it I had to look up the names of important secondary characters. Or the silly dream story, Horrible Monster, with which I entertain myself by replaying the fun scenes in my head in slightly different ways each night?

There’s some further thought needed here. It’s certainly the case that I am struggling to be interested in the other projects I’m meant to be working on as part of my goals for this year, with these versions of my burning story hanging over me.

I wonder, too, where this concept came from. There are two scenes in fiction that I returned to time and time again as a child. One was the Shrieking Shack scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and the other was in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in the season 7 episode Storyteller when Buffy and Andrew closed the Hellmouth. The former I must have read a dozen times. The latter I had recorded on video cassette, and watched over and over and over until, like Andrew speaking over his recording of Anya and Xander’s conversation earlier in the same episode, I could say the characters’ lines as they said them, without error. I clumsily tried to imitate these scenes in my own fiction of the time, though I doubt any of those stories and scenes still exist, except perhaps on 3.5 inch floppies at the bottom of a cardboard box in my old room at my parents’ house.

These scenes sent shivers down my spine for the same reason. Characters who are tainted, but not irredeemable, have their lives threatened by those with positions of relative moral authority, and instead of ending up dead, are cleansed, in one case through truth, and the other through remorse. Meanwhile the other party in the scenario remains uncompromised in spite of valid reasons by which they might have chosen the other path.

I think these earlier scenes had a big effect on me, and gradually morphed – along with other key concepts I gained through other stories I consumed which perhaps do not stand out so strongly in my memory, into the overarching plot I outlined above, which itself returned time and time again as a result of my inability to get it right.

There’s a story within me that needs to be written. I just need to work out how to tell it. Then maybe I’ll be free of its grip.

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