Sometimes people wonder to me where a writer's stories come from. Stories are everywhere. There’s no end of them.
I can’t remember where I got this image. It’s been my screen saver for a couple of months. I like it as a screen saver because having it means that each time I boot up, I pause for a moment before going along to email and think “Who are those guys?”
I don’t know yet who they are, where they’re headed in their boat, why they’re going that way, whom they left behind, what they will find when they get to their destination, and what problems they carry with them as they plow through the sea.
This image already is a story; I just don’t know what the story is.
But I have ideas. Having ideas is what makes me a writer.
From the design of the boat and from her rig and sails, I can speculate about time and geography—perhaps 18th century, maybe Dutch.
From the apparent calmness of the two sailors, I speculate that this trip they’re on might be a routine voyage -- maybe a cargo transfer. But what cargo and, more importantly, will their delivery or pick up proceed as expected, or will a problem occur? What might the problem be? For there to be a story at all, there's got to be a problem.
On the other hand, from their apparent indifference to the lack of trim of their flying jib, I speculate either that they may be engaged in some intense discussion or argument right now and have not noticed the lack of trim, or that a sudden squall has caught them by surprise. In either case, this illustration might be the snap-shot of a possible crisis in itself. Is it a crisis in human relations? In commercial expectation? In nautical competence?
Are the sailors men? I assume so—that’s a massive, unwieldy rudder and tiller to manage, and lots of sheets for trimming the boat’s five sails (only four of them set at the moment). Women could sail this boat, but it would be less common than for the sailors to be men. If the sailors are men, where are the women who fit into this picture—possibly below decks? Ashore with children? Nonexistent?
What are the ages and characters of the two men? Are they young and energetic and beginning a commercial or fishing career? Are they old and tired and rheumatic from endless cold and wet and wish this all were over? Is one older than the other and more experienced than the other? Did the younger marry the older’s daughter and does he angle to inherit the boat?
I’ve glanced at this image many times. Dozens of stories are there about the men, each of which could be told and probably never will be.
I used to write fiction. When I desired to read a novel about a story such as any of those speculated above, and when I couldn't find such a one, I'd sit down and write it myself.
What stories excite you enough to write them out, taking the time and exercising the discipline to follow whatever literary path along which they take you?
Don’t allow 2022 to pass by without writing at least one of those stories through to its end.
My two cents.