Okay… Now What?: Building a Story Around a Seed

Poetry and short stories share many characteristics with one another. Poetry, however, is much more simplistic, and it can (and should) get its point across with minimal explanation. Short stories, on the whole, need to be developed far more than poems. That’s what we’re here to discuss today.

When it comes to writing, more often than not, the author finds a "seed" that their story grows from. It could be an image from a historical book, an event from their own lives, a song they heard on the subway--there's truly no limit. I personally tend to gravitate towards items, as I find the idea of a strong piece of work centered on a mundane object to be fascinating. The trick is to find the way for the seed to grow into the creation it's meant to be.

Allow me to provide an example from my own life. As I was driving home from work last week, my eyes happened upon the old umbrella I had in my backseat. While I had looked at it dozens of times before, an idea popped into my head this time: a story based around the umbrella as a set piece. I imagined the umbrella to be magical in some capacity. This, of course, only brought more questions to mind:

  • What is the origin of the umbrella? Is it an artifact that has survived centuries, or is it a recent creation? Has it perhaps become “magical” very recently? Who has been in possession of it up to now?
  • Sure, it’s a “magical” umbrella, but magical how? Does it protect its user from more than just rain? Does it seek out those in need? Is it the umbrella from Mary Poppins?
  • Why is it here now? What has brought it here? Is it in possession of a good person, or an evil one? Does it have a mind of its own, and has it in fact allowed itself to be brought here for an important purpose only it knows of?
  • What role does it play in the story? Is it the main focus, or does it play second fiddle to the plot? Does it help the protagonists on their journey, trip up the antagonist, or maintain neutrality to the situation at hand?
  • And perhaps the most important question of all: what of this information is pertinent to TELL the reader, and what should be SHOWN? Do we as an audience learn the umbrella’s intentions through an omniscient narrator, or by the actions it brings about on the page?

These questions are only the start of making the umbrella's story come to life. However, these sorts of questions provide the framework for your story. Ask questions about your own seeds. What is the meaning behind the song? Why that life event in particular? Why do the people in that old photo matter? As time goes on, you’ll come to find questions specific to your subject matter, and if you’re lucky, they’ll start answering questions faster than you can ask them.