On Scenting a Story

Sep 13, 2021

By Christine Carron

A friend is proofreading the revision I have been working on for months. After all the creative, intellectual, and emotional effort that went into that particular revision, it is a relief to have it off my desk and out of my mind. 

Its absence has opened up time in my schedule. Time that I am filling with imagining a new story. The contrast between the thinking processes required for  completing a story versus starting one is stark. On the spectrum of divergent/convergent thinking, completing a story is more about convergence: making choices and removing possibilities. The steps can be tedious (example, proofreading hundreds of pages of a story), but they are concrete and knowable. 

Starting a story weighs heavily toward divergence: creating choices and adding possibilities. The steps can feel amorphous and messy. This part of the process also requires surrender, but I don’t mean surrender in the sense of giving up, or passively sitting there and hoping a great story will flow unbidden from brain to page. That doesn’t happen as far as I know. 

Surrendering to a story idea requires active mental engagement. Not lollygagging. 

Think of an animal catching a scent. The animal is not in charge of where the scent goes, and the path is not always straight. There will be unexpected turns, circles and deadends. Backtracking and even some aimless wandering is part of the process. But even in that seemingly aimless wandering, the animal is still active, engaged, and searching. 

My sweet pup does this. She loves a scent. And, holy wowza, is she fierce when she gets wind of one. She is a long-legged, seventeen-pound dog who can force me to a stop when something catches her nose’s fancy and she stalls out to investigate. I do not rank in comparison in those moments. Which makes her my scenting-a-story inspiration. 

The scent/story rules all!

Processes can support us through the entire creative cycle. But of course, the processes have to be designed to support the kind of thinking that a particular task requires. Along with processes that support divergent thinking, the earliest steps of creating a story requires faith, gumption, and trusting, even enjoying, the state of not knowing. 

That last part is optional, of course. You could suffer through the beginning stages. Or attempt to strong-arm the idea and bully it into being. Demand that it converge before it is truly ready to converge. But then you end up with a cowed story idea, instead of one exuberant and ready to play. Where is the efficacy in that? 

Scenting a story is the kind of process a story-in-the-making needs. Plus, it’s a lot more fun. So be fierce, have faith, and get scenting! A story awaits. 


The Goodjelly Prompt of the Week

  • Which are you more comfortable with: divergent or convergent thinking? How does that preference impact your starting-a-story efforts?
  • Create your own metaphor for the starting-a-story process. 
  • Research different divergent thinking processes (like Dr. Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats) to add new possibilities to your scenting-a-story toolkit.
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