Growing Stories

Crafting a story isn’t much different than knowing what it takes to grow a good grape.  It all begins in the dirt and ends with the consumption of a product.

Growing grapevines (aka viticulture) is not an exact science.  Neither is storytelling (aka storytelling), but there is a growing season.  There are many factors that can go into creating the end product.

Think of the following when comparing the two:

Taxonomy/Varieties/Rootstock = Choosing a Genre
Site Selection/Creating Favorable Conditions = Where To Write
Establishing Vineyard = First Draft
Training, Trellising/Pruning/Canopy Management = Editing
Irrigation/Nutrition = Reading Many Other Works To Continually Feed Your Brain
Pests/Diseases/Weather = Critiques
Harvesting = Sharing The Completed Story

What kind of story are you going to write?  Study the genres and choose one or more.  How many characters and what defines them?  You may not know all of this up front and that's okay.  Start with a few and let it grow.  Will you grow your story completely new or will you graft onto existing rootstock?  Some vines require a bolder rootstock to survive certain climates.  I think of this like deciding to write a horror story based on vampires as opposed to creating a completely new creature.  If you want new ideas to form, draw from a variety of sources.  There was a time when I had nine varieties of grapevines in a test vineyard.  It took years and a lot of experimentation to single out the  one variety that would do best where I live.  I'm not saying take years to decide, or write everything all at once.  But don't be afraid to discover what you are good at by experimenting.

Soils that retain too much water are no good for grapevines; roots will eventually rot.  In the same way, too many distractions are no good for writers.  Unlike grapevines, we writers are mobile and not literally tied to the Earth, but we are literately tied.  I don't know about all other authors, but some of us require a particular environment to write well.  It is important to find that place that is just right for you.

The first vine I ever planted died.  Now that I think about it so did the second, the third, and the fourth.  But the fifth took hold and almost eight years later is still doing well.  Invest in learning with your first work.  It may or may not do well; don't be surprised either way.  I read the other day about an author who completed eight novels before she was traditionally published.  The same can be said of your first draft.  Get the initial story written; you can sculpt it and check for errors later.

Managing a single vine or an entire vineyard has its challenges.  So too does editing a story and its chapters, not to mention the relationships between characters.  Dialog can sound out of place or out of character, timelines may overlap, words will get misspelled or repeated too often.  Vines can be unruly if not properly managed.  Think of editing like pruning and training your vineyard.  (As an advanced piece of advice, I train my vines with two trunks in case one starts to die back.  Try to have at least two stories ready in case one takes off.  That way as one declines in popularity, there is another ready to go.)

No matter what, never stop feeding your brain with ideas.  Vines require water and nutrients.  Likewise, try to be well read and stay current.  The more you learn, the more ideas you will have. 

I can't tell you the number of times I have been frustrated by things not turning out the way I thought they should.  In the beginning, communication was just as frustrating as trying to train a grapevine to do my bidding.  Eventually, though, I learned to let the vine become what it was meant to be.  All those pesky bugs that ate some leaves taught me how to make the vines a little stronger.  A story needs to be criticized.  The more input you receive, to a point anyway, the better your story can become.  

The growing season goes into the harvesting of the fruit, or in this case your completed work going into the public space.  The hope is for good reviews, but if the reviews don't meet your expectations always remember, there will be another season.