I practice a sort of thievery.

Not a malicious one mind you, or illegal, at least not yet. And as far as I know my crimes are victimless, and if I do well, often embraced and appreciated. I never plan my heists and never know what tiny observance may spawn one as it may be years down the road that I eventually recognize my plunder. My spoils are random, and often worthless by themselves, and they’re impossible to reunite with their original owners, but nonetheless I stole them.

Yes, in truth, I’m a bit of a thief. You may even be my next victim, and there’s nothing you can do about it; I have immunity. After all, I’m writer.

One of the arcane and villainous joys of creative writing is the license it gives me to draw upon just about anything I’ve ever encountered and use it unabashedly for my own selfish purposes.

I steal truths and experience. I steal emotions and words, and even thoughts if I am exposed to them. I’ll take your past, your present, and the hopes and dreams of your future. I’ll pilfer just about anything my mind can absorb from anyone at anytime. I’ll splay it out, dice it up, stash it away, and later come back to any tiny piece of it whenever I may need it again.

I may know you; I may not. I may converse with you for hours or I may spy you for a brief but memorable instant from across a congested scene. I may have only heard about you through others, or read about you in an article. I may like you, love you, hate you, or be completely indifferent. And it doesn’t matter because I don’t steal what I steal with any sort of recognizable intent.

My fellow writers know exactly what I’m talking about. Scenes of life that we witness and later draw upon: seeing a child scorned when the mother thought no one was watching, the embarrassment of a girl at her boyfriend’s arrogance or vileness, the masked heart swell of a stoic patriarch when his granddaughter kisses him. Stories from friends and loved ones, rumors we caught off-hand and dismissed, tales of tragedy that travel the globe in a matter of hours, all of which stuck with us for some reason and left imprints on the mind and heart that compels us to write.

As readers and writers we all know the bona fide fact that, when it comes to any story worth telling, there truly is nothing new under the sun. All the stories out there, the conflicts, the situations, the rising action, the climax, they all pretty much boil down to a few tiny variations that keep getting regenerated and recreated again and again and again. Sure, we may rearrange things, or glue several of those stories together in new ways. We may change the names and settings and mood, but in the end we’re not really telling anything new, anything that hasn’t been told before.

So why then do we keep reading? It must not be getting old if we continue to sop it up with our feeble mind biscuits and then look for yet another bowlful to occupy us. See, that’s where the thievery comes in.

It’s the little subtle realities, embezzled from our own recollections, which we inject into a story that give it a sense of uniqueness. And it is those same stolen actualities, no matter how small, that cause a good story to speak to us, interest us, and even captivate us. They make a story both novel and distinct, while also connecting with readers through the common and recognizable emotions and experiences that we identify with. It offers a sense of both newness and familiarity, exoticism and constancy. That is what makes a story great.

In the quest for the ultimate tale, I steal tiny moments and memories all the time. I may not realize it, but I’m stowing away bits and pieces of all I encounter and I never know what will stay in my brain pouch until I look later. I take them out and play with them. I deface them and twist them and mold them into what I need them to be. Sometimes I leave them completely untouched because they are too perfect or unbelievable in reality to dishonor with any alteration.

I use these tidbits to connect myself to the story, and hopefully the reader. It’s one of the things about writing that makes me feel clever and powerful. It fulfills me.

Yes, I’m a thief all right. And I don’t feel the least bit bad about it.

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