Four Notes

Think about the famous first movement of Beethoven’s 5th sym-phony. That entire movement is based on four notes, three of which are identical. And yet from those four notes, Beethoven composed seven minutes of some of the most memorable classical music ever written.

To me, those four notes are like the first idea of a novel. For instance, the book I’m completing now began with this seed of an image: a boy meets a man on the road and they take a journey together. That’s it. Not exactly something you could pitch to an agent, but within that simple image I felt the potential for an entire novel.

This is one of the mysteries of stories. I remember when I came up with the basic idea for the only screenplay I ever wrote. The story was still in its infancy but I told my mother about it anyway. When I was done describing what I knew of the story, she said, “Well, that doesn’t sound like much.” Then I wrote it, discovered all that I had felt but had not yet seen, and she loved it.

No one can ever know what you know about the story you are trying to tell because you don’t know all there is to know about the story you are trying to tell until you have told all of it. And this is all to the better in my mind. If as writers we are discovering up until the very last word, the story will remain alive up until the very last word.

This is why I am unmoved by predictions of success or failure of a given idea. Would anyone else have seen the potential in those four notes that Beethoven did? We’ll never know, and we’ll never need to. There are seeds of ideas everywhere, each as pregnant as the next. The height and beauty to which they grow depends only upon the imagination in which they are planted.

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