Tag Archives: story

Why stories compel the human soul

Stories don’t just distract us. Walk in to the average home and see how many ways we give ourselves to escape in to stories. Break down the 24 hours of the day and see how many of them we spend immersed in fictional worlds. Stories are a compulsion. For some, an addiction. If politicians ever looked seriously at them, we might have a War on Stories to add to the War on Drugs.

Why are we compelled by stories?

Hindu philosophy has a few things to say about stories. In Hinduism all you are is a story. A story being lived out by the super-consciousness of the universe which, given infinite time, will live out all possible stories. Hinduism calls that super-consciousness the Atman. The Atman – which we filter in to Western theology in bastardised form as god and / or the soul – is the creator of everything. Not because they make everything, but because they dream everything. After an eternity being super-novas or Emperors or planets or William Shatner gets boring. And the Atman, seeking variety, decides to be you. Or indeed me. Or your unremarkably dull housemate Colin who collects ring-binders. You might struggle to see why the Atman would dream itself the life of Colin, but given infinite time all things become more or less equally interesting. Even ring-binders.

We – that is the part of us that thinks we are who we are, rather than an aspect of the dreaming Atman super-consciousness – do not have infinite time. We believe our selves finite and we believe we live within constraints. In stories we can escape our constraints. We can be other people. Live other lives. Explore strange new worlds. We can be William Shatner. Or, at least, Captain Kirk. For the length of the story we are free of our self. Then we go back to being who we are. Wondering about Colin, and his odd affection for ring-binders.

We might feel a slight disappointment. A come down after the trip. But we shouldn’t.

When the story begins the Atman is FASCINATED. In some ways all the Atman is, the very essence of its being, is fascination with stories. That’s why you seem to disappear in to the story. The Atman, which is you, the part of you that is truly aware, is temporarily fascinated by the story unfolding on the screen, or stage, or in the book, or comic page. The Atman that once dreamed it was you, now dreams it is Captain Kirk. But. It has been Captain Kirk. It has been Captain Kirk a lot. And after an hour or two, it gets bored. It wants to be you again. Because you, of all the wonders of the universe, are the most fascinating story of all.

(This is, incidentally, why Hindu stories like the Mahabharat are so fascinatingly dramatic. And epicly long. They’re trying to tempt the Atman out of you and keep it forever.)

Kelly’s Crows

Today I finished two weeks at Clarion. It feels like much longer. There is a consensus that one week of Clarion world time is about three weeks of real world time (or should that be the other way around?). One of my fellow clarionites has observed that we are living in strange environment. The weather is the same every day. There are lizards and rabbits and crows leaping all over the UCSD campus, and eucalyptus trees everywhere with flaky bark that looks like skin. Its possible that the crows have been sent to watch over us, and conceivable that we are all living in a Kelly Link story (in which case dear reader, please don’t stop!)

Clarion is very hard work. You critique all morning. You write all day. You read all night. Sleep is scarce, but deep. Like intense, structured exercise, this kind of exertion has the effect of stretching the muscles being exercised. I can feel myself arriving at new revelations about story writing everyday. The combination of hours of writing, reading and deconstructing up to 20k words of story every day, discussing those stories, talking almost non-stop about story and being around one very skilled professional writer after another is filtering so many concepts into my head that I will still be processing all the details years after Clarion has finished.

Last weeks story, ‘Ocean Beach’ got all the experiences I’ve been absorbing from California and San Diego out of my system.  Its very far from finished, but I’m really happy about the ideas I developed in the story, and its likely to be first on my list to complete when I get back. I hope I don’t lose the thread of it when Kalifornia is no longer looming all around me, being weird in ways that I think only this strange environment can be.  I did a flash piece last week as well called ‘String Music’ which I will polish and submit when I have a spare few hours. This week I’m working on a high fantasy story, complete with Elves and magic rings. Its going v.well and is a good change of pace and style as the other pieces were very dense, this is much more exciting. I’m not expecting to walk away from my six weeks here with any finished drafts, but do want to generate as much material and absorb as many insights into the craft as possible.

The Great Western Pile

Well, I’ve just finished second draft of my new story ‘The Great Western Pile’. Its a bit strange and I have no idea where I’m going to sell it but I like it. Extract below.


From the galleries of Westminster the Thames, that sick river, slides along at pace with history. The parliament stones, made filthy by the smog of industrial revolution, bear the weight of Empire. The hands of Big Ben touch the hour, clockwork tips the bells and through the City of London, pigeons and other scavengers take flight.

Cavannagh straightens the seams of his pinstripe suit before entering the cell. He recounts the mistakes that brought a once promising career in civil service to the depths of the Basement. He sat upon the Very Private Committee that expanded the classified facility through levels nine to fourteen. Had he thought for a moment he would have had to work in them, he would have pushed for a higher standard of decor.

He places a large stack of manilla folders on the interrogation table and then takes his seat. Opening one folder and laying it flat, he pulls his spectacles onto the bridge of his nose and rereads the contents perfunctorily before finally looking up at the agent. So it really is him, he thinks.

“Subject presents in accordance with case notes.” The spools of recording devices spin silently in a distant room. “Medical reports no major trauma. Minor lacerations to face and hands consistent with close combat. Visual inspection confirms this assessment. Note – light levels in Interrogation Room D still below suitable despite previous reports to Maintenance. I do hope these comments will make it into the written transcript this time Martha. Do you need anything?”

“A bourbon. And a blowjob.” The agent replies with a smile.

“Psychopharmacy assess the subjects mental state as in line with base standards. Whilst this assessment is correct, it says more about the base standards of current field agents than the subjects own sanity or lack there of. Other than alchohol or sexual favours, is there anything I can get you before we start?’

“Other than those, no there is not.”

“Excellent. Do I need to recap our aim here?”

“To justify your salary grade?”

“That was not my question agent. I will assume the answer is yes. This is a debriefing session. You will recount the events of the last fourty eight hours, leading up to the destruction of the Great Western Pile, in every detail and specific. I will ask questions which you will endeavor to answer as thoroughly as~”

“~I am able. I understand better than you know.”

“The proper term to address me by is sir. Lets start at the beginning.”

“Yes, of course. The Sheraton Grand Hotel, whilst notable for its spacious rooms and the high quality of its cuisine is most remarkable for its toliet facilities. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the lavatory paper itself, which one may assumed is hand woven by expert artisans, at least such were my thoughts as I wadded a handful of sheets into the crack of my~”

Where do they find these people? Cavannagh wonders. Uniformly beautiful, naturally athletic and exceptionally intelligent, but no more sense then a juvenile chimpanzee.

“That’s quite enough of that agent. Do you have any comprehension how much trouble you are in here? A little over a day ago a chain events led to the destruction of this great nations most powerful computational facility, putting in jeopardy every essential service linked in to the grid, a chain of events that appears to start and end with you. Does this really seem like any time for toilet humour? No? Then lets stick to the relevant details, shall we?”

“Oh yes, absolutely. Why don’t you tell me where you would like to begin?”

“The girl you killed. Lets say we start there.”

Cavannagh takes some pride in the flash of anger that colors the mans features. Inciting an agent takes particular skill.

“Actually I’ve just this moment thought of something I want.”

“And what might that be?”

“Say my real name.”

Touche, thinks Cavannagh bitterly. The process is supposed to be anonymous. They both know that there is no way Cavannagh can be ignorant of the agents public persona. Anyone who had even walked past a newspaper stand in the last two years would know him instantaneously.

“And what real name would that be?”

“Oh, you know. The one they engraved on the Nobel.”

“Yes, but my question is why you think that name any more real than any other we have created for you?”

The agent simply smiles at Cavannagh.

“The woman then. Early intelligence reports indicated the possibility she would allow us to gain access to the installation. Was this the case?”

“Yes. She was every bit as compliant as expected.”

“Lets start there then, with your journey in to the pile.”