If we look around instead of look far, far away for our stories, how do we purpose what we see?
I remember the day I opened my laptop to start Lu. I had the vaguest of vague, vague, vaguey, vague, vague ideas to write a story about how a real girl comes to believe God is real. I wanted Lu’s story to begin with her leaving a place and a relationship. Maybe because the boyfriend cheated? I wrote a couple paragraphs. Now how did I get her out of the apartment? I’ve never had a boyfriend cheat (to my knowledge), but if I did, I’d like think I’d leave in spectacular fashion – just R-E-S-P-E-C-T right outta there. I didn’t want Lu taking the time to pack, but I didn’t want her leaving empty-handed.
A Crock-Pot popped in my mind, and not just any CP – the 1970s pea-green model without the removable bowl, like the one that served as my mom’s weekly countertop chef for her pork chops and cream of mushroom soup. I don’t know why, out of all my childhood artifacts, the CP elbowed its way to the front, but the thought made me laugh. Could I get away with Lu leaving with only a Crock-Pot?
Sure – if it told the reader something about her. A girl who forgoes spending $20 on a new CP with a more innocuous color and a removable bowl is a girl who … thinks about her $20. She’s frugal, and maybe she also doesn’t earn much. I wrote that down. What she cooks in the CP must also fit within these parameters and could be … pork and kraut. This was another childhood staple. You have to grow up eating it to like it. This was how I discovered Lu was Polish, like me. Ooh – and her boyfriend was not! He wouldn’t like sauerkraut, and the smell of pork simmering in kraut all day greets you at the door like a dog. Lu chose to cook it anyway, which is when I realized she was stubborn and that maybe there was more to this imploding relationship than her boyfriend’s cheating.
After he told me he cheated on me, I stood and surveyed our studio apartment. I’d never loved it, but I hated it now. All the “finds” I’d collected from thrift stores and flea markets – tarnished silver candlesticks, vintage posters, threadbare rugs – looked like the junk they were. John could take care of it. He’d probably already called the moving truck. He’d wanted to move for years, but I’d insisted on paying half of our living expenses, and the rent for this place was the best I could do on my barista income. It was one of our many fights.
As was the Crock-Pot on the drying rack. I knew how to make one thing: pork and sauerkraut, courtesy of my polish grandma. John had liked it when we were both broke, but then he became rich and eating leftovers day-in and day-out no longer appealed. That didn’t change it was the end of the month for me, and I was broke. He hadn’t said much about his new girlfriend in his cheating confession, but I bet she didn’t come to the relationship with a pea-green Crock-Pot.
I seized mine.
“I guess your new girl won’t be needing this!” I declared, waving the ratty cord in front of his face before heading to the front door.
Ultimately, that Crock-Pot did way more than carry my character out of her apartment. It carried me through the first chapter of my first book. Writing about something I knew emboldened me to keep writing, and infusing my fiction with reality made it more real, which is important if you’re going to write a story about how a real girl comes to believe God is real.
It’s Day 3 of NaNoWriMo. As you’re looking around for stories, pick some stuff up – stuff that’s familiar, stuff that makes you laugh, stuff that might seem inconsequential. Describe how it looks, feels, smells, handles. What does it say? Articulate that. Now, what can you make it say? This is where imagination comes in and the fun starts, both for you as a storyteller and the people on the other end of it.
Many of our stories follow the same broad themes; it’s the details that make them sing. Who hasn’t heard the one about the boy who cheats and the girl who leaves? But the one about the boys who cheats and the girl who leaves with only her Crock-Pot? We might be on to something.