Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Spark of Life

The moment your toes touch the water, you can feel the spark of life.

Water breeds life, afterall, and stepping into the ocean--or even a small pond--you become part of that life-force, linking yourself to something larger.... something mysterious and breath-taking.

When you open a book, you expect to feel that same spark of life, don't you?

But that's not always what happens.

Sometimes that spark of life is missing.

How do writers invest their work with that spark of life?

In romance novels, sparks are created when the heroine and hero step into the same room. The reader can feel that frission--or friction--sending sparks off the page.

And, in most fiction, sparks of conflict are created when a hero or heroine encounter obstacles, or differing goals, that obstruct or obscure his or her path.

But is conflict the spark of life?

Or is the spark of life something different... something that draws a reader into a story... a magical force that holds a reader's attention on every page?

If it isn't conflict, then what is it?

A compelling premise?

The dramatic question?

Voice?

What if the spark of life is larger than issues of craft, yet contains them all?

Whatever it is... in fiction the spark of life isn't something you can force or manipulate.

It's more like faith and hope... something beyond our ability to craft, although we may try for years and years.

When the spark of life is present in a story, we feel it as surely as we feel water touching our skin. It establishes a connection to a deeper life-force... and allows the story to come alive in our imagination.

But analysis doesn't always help solve this mystery.

Sometimes it's enough to know that there's mystery and grandeur in a story, without being able to explain or define it.

Sometimes we can only acknowledge its presence and stand in awe of it--the way we might stand on the edge of the sea, awe-struck by its majesty.

Art is full of these kinds of mysteries.

As we struggle with issues of craft in our work, it may help to remind ourselves that we can't always know everything about writing or what makes a story compelling, no matter how hard we try.

Sometimes the only response for being able to sense such things on the page is one of awe and gratitude.

Special thanks to Chuck Entwistle for "sparking" this comment and for sharing his thoughts with Wordswimmer. His latest story, "Diamonds in the Dirt, "appears in the April issue of Cricket.

1 comment:

jo'r said...

Bruce, I think what comes closest to any spark of life in a story might lie in your reflection that: “When the spark of life is present in a story … it establishes a connection to a deeper life-force... and allows the story to come alive in our imagination.” I most like that, and it seems to jibe well with lots of advice I’ve read that the most successful, enduring stories are those that deal with universal themes, those “deeper life-forces,” i.e., leaving (home, family, relationship), returning (prodigal son, failed relationship, hometown), love, betrayal, survival, etc. Themes that touch us all because they strike a flint at a shared human consciousness. From the start show a compelling narrative voice, and early-on get a strong particularity of a universal theme out in the open. Once the spark is struck, you’ve got to deliver of course—no forcing or manipulation as you mention—but at least you’ve got a fire going now between you and the reader. You’ve got to breathe life into it afterward.
I read Chuck Entwistle’s article in Cricket. Great piece of creative non-fiction. Look at it and note how the universal theme of greed embraces the swindlers and the gulled.