How long does it take to tell a story?

A number of years ago, almost thirty to be exact, I was taking baby steps and making timid attempts to write. What I mean by that is, I had stories to tell, I just never really worked on them. I made laughable tries of course, writing pages and pages of long hand prose on yellow notebook paper – but to be honest i spent more time sharpening my pencils than actually writing. And a lot of those attempts were never finished. They are stuffed away in a filing box collecting dust.

All but one.

In the fall of ’87 I moved into the trailer of a girlfriend on the outskirts a few miles from the University campus where I was getting my undergraduate degree. I was reading a lot then, and one author I was reading a lot of was Stephen King. I’d been a fan since first reading Night Shift, a collection of short stories, which in turn led to his other works. And while sitting in the kitchen of that trailer, my newly sharpened pencils laid out neatly and a blank pad of yellow notebook paper before me, I once again set out to tell a story. This one was in the style of Stephen King. It was a horror story – though to be honest, I don’t think Stephen King writes horror. Maybe because the word doesn’t sit right with me, there are horror elements to his stories to be sure, but I think he is a master at characterization and storytelling. His books – for me – are simply well crafted, well told character studies — with some creepy stuff thrown in.

I never finished it.

Until today.

The story deals with childhood and bullying and in that vein, shares kinship with King’s short story The Body (made into the excellent film, Stand By Me). It was inspired by some images I remember seeing in a children’s magazine – I can’t remember if it was Highlight’s or not and for the life of me I can’t find those images no matter how hard I Google – isn’t everything from our childhood’s online already? Seems like it should have been scanned and uploaded somewhere 🙂

Those images stuck with me because they concerned creating a knight’s costumes and weapons from household items and they were drawn really well. Very vintage/retro style – clean lines, realistic and easy to understand.

There was another image in that book, of a tree. A very scary tree, one of those trees that has a face. One of those trees you just know has something living inside it.

scarytreeThis isn’t the tree from the magazine as I remember it, but it’s close.

And so, in my mind these were the seeds that grew into a scary story about some bullies who take a young kid to the woods in order to teach him a lesson – and how the tree influences one of them, and how things go terribly, terribly wrong.

It clocked in at just over 27,000 words and I was pretty satisfied with how it rolled out. I think it can still be tweaked and it most definitely needs some editing, but what I’m really proud of is actually finishing the damn thing. There were some twists and turns I didn’t see coming and I had fun crafting it.

So how long does it take to tell a story? Some are like Tootsie-Pops I guess… “One, Ta-whoo, a-Three..” and they are over and done.

Others need to simmer, hibernate or burrow down deep until you have the voice to tell them.

The trick is to keep listening for that voice, you just might enjoy where it takes you…



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