Remembering Stories

When we write a memoir or simply a tell a story from our past, we say we are remembering that story – which, as Andre Dubus pointed out when discussing his memoir, Townie, means to put back together, to re-member and make whole. The storyteller is in this way reassembling what time and the imagination have fractured. You don’t need to make anything to remember a story. Instead, you focus upon the seed of the event you can recall – how it felt or smelled, a single action or word, maybe only a name –and then wait. It is an active kind of waiting, however, as you keep your attention on what you do know, while you simultaneously leave room for what you do not. By and by the details emerge from the shadows, and your story is whole again.

I wonder if this is also true for fiction, for those stories we imagine from nothing. The experience is eerily similar. The author of fiction begins her story as if she found the end of a thread and then chose to follow it. On the best days, that thread seems to lead her steadily through the forest of story possibilities. When she loses touch with that thread, when she tries to go it alone, every way seems equal. Until she returns, until she finds and holds the thread again and that tricky plot that seemed so dense and intractable falls all at once together, and the author sighs: “Of course. What else could it have been?”

I know we can distinguish between what we have lived and what we dream, but I do not find much difference between the thread that I follow through the shadows of the past and the threads I have followed through the forest of invention. Lost is lost, and found is found. All stories seek the same resting place within me, and I will look anywhere from past to future to find that place.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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