A story is like a child – though it arises from us, it is its own being

If you’ve ever been a parent or just an astute observer of your niece or nephew, you’ve probably been struck by how much a child is like his or her father and mother. At the same time, though they share physical traits, interests and patterns of behavior, the child is unique and his or her person.

Likewise, your story is a creation and reflection of you…yet, it is a creature all its own, too.

The universe and characters of your story arise from deep inside you, as if elements plucked from your unconsciousness. You construct the world in a way that your everyday life hasn’t yet needed to, and so the story can surprise, leaving you to wonder, “Did I really write that? Do I really believe it?” Similarly, a child also has a mind of his own, one that shares memories and maybe even genetic inclinations to think in ways that the parent does, yet it’s still a mind that is separate and distinct, that is essentially unknowable, much like our own unconscious.

At times, the universe and characters you’ve created are seemingly alien, as if you had nothing at all to do with it. A fictional universe that is sufficiently developed will begin to operate by its own rules simply to be logically consistent, and you may not know all that may occur in the tale, just that it must obey certain, seemingly unknowable laws. Almost all parents have had some experience in which their child did something entirely inexplicable, something that baffled them. But if you could know all that’s going in that child’s mind – each of her thoughts, each of her feelings, each of her synaptic connections – it probably would make perfect sense, or at least be explainable.

You’ll really feel as if your book has taken control of its destiny when readers respond to it. Each reader is like a classmate, a high school sweetheart, or a coworker that a child meets as entering the broader world, interacting with your “creation” in ways that you might not fully comprehend or even be aware of.

All too often, writers think of their story as a machine that they have total control over, that they can fine-tune and redesign. What if we instead thought of our stories as children, who we can guide from birth to maturity, though? What if rather than attempting to fix every problem we approached writing from the attitude of compassionate detachment, intervening when necessary but allowing the story to naturally unfold?

Would our stories then be less of a cookie cutter of ourselves and instead be more real and human to the reader?