My latest book, Waggers (2 December 2014, Sky Pony Press), is about a newly adopted puppy who tries REALLY hard to be good, but his tail get in the way.
The story was inspired by unexpected, definitely unintended, but sometimes unbelievably disastrous mishaps by our most recently adopted puppy, Desi, who has the heart of a Great Dane and the tail of a Great White Whale.
It was a fun write, cathartic even, but every story challenges me in some way. With Waggers, it was originality.
Story itself isn’t exactly original. In fact, if you want a blueprint for it, take a look at Joseph Campbell A Hero’s Journey. He takes an Emperor’s New Clothes approach to story, revealing all its unseemly parts. No page is unturned, no trick unmasked.
Neither is telling story. A lot of our communication takes on story format. How was your day? What happened at school? How is the project coming along?
Of course, the answer can be a single sentence (with my teen daughters, a grunt), but more often than not, we listeners ask for more, until we’ve got beginning, middle, and end. For better or worse, we like our information in a certain form.
Here’s the trick. A storyteller can’t just reuse an already used form without adding her own flair. If she does, things become predictable and the reader goes off to make a cheese sandwich, never to return. Readers want to be surprised. They want unusual. But how do you take the everyday and make it new and out-of-the-ordinary? That’s what I faced with Waggers. A dog with a problem isn’t novel. I was going to have to get creative.
Pause for dramatic effect.
Not affected? Dare I say, this is what you expect of writers, that they are creative, imaginative, avant-garde even? Demanding readers. Okay, okay, me too. I expect the seemingly impossible of writers, and my writing.
Yet with Waggers, I seesawed between something so new it couldn’t even be called story, to something so trite I was falling asleep. So I tried the demented writer approach – i.e. ditch everything, kill my darlings – until I didn’t even have enough left to call a haiku. Which brought me to the sobering realization that this was about balance. It was about sifting through and discovering what elements I could use and how to reshape, relay, reimagine and add until my story emerged with its own form and flair.
I wish I could say I understood all of that when I was going through it, but I am a messy writer. I never know exactly where I am until I finish and step back to get my bearings. If I don’t recognize my surroundings, woohoo! I’ve taken story somewhere new.
Now if I can just sell it…
About the Author: Stacy Nyikos is the author of many mischievous books for kids. She's not sure how that happened. She never got into trouble as a child. Well, if you don't count borrowing sandwiches from her dad. He wasn't eating them anyway. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College, which she didn't borrow. They gave it to her. Really. Ask her kids. Or her dog. Just don't ask her husband. He's missing a few sandwiches.