Where does a story begin?
For that matter, where does it end? I’ve been asking myself this question for a while. I love stories – I think everyone loves stories. And we’ve packaged stories up very well; they have a beginning, a middle, and an end (who remembers the story mountain from primary school creative writing lessons?). We all know some stories: we can retell our favourite ones with gusto, delivering them like seasoned storytellers. Each story comes filled with its own Dramatis Personae, a cast of characters we come to know and love – or hate, for that matter. Most of us will be familiar with the eponymous Macbeth. We’ll know something of his story, how he went from nobleman to mass-murdering tyrant (spoilers!). Countless books have been written about him, analysing his motivations, his relationships, his actions; he is a well-studied character. But even with this often-read play, we only know a small part of his actual story. When was he born? What was he like as a child? How did he come to join the army? What would his mother think of his regicidal antics? We only see a small part of Macbeth’s story. His story begins a long time before the stage directions: Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches.
Each story has a myriad other stories attached to its every point. In the aforementioned Macbeth, we have a large roster of characters who each have their own story on the pages, yet even Shakespeare’s prolific quill couldn’t begin to track each of these stories from the beginning. They have an untold life of their own outside the confines of the book, it’s just that no one has told their story. Yet. In Act III we are introduced to the two Murderers. You can imagine what they go on to do. We don’t know much about them, but they have been alive in the annals of literature for over 400 years. Would a book about them be interesting? I’d like to know how they ended up working as murderers for a medieval Scottish King. I’d love to read about Of Mice and Men’s much maligned character Curley. Surely that’s not his actual name? Was he always a violent person, or was there some traumatic event in his childhood? Each character that we read about will interact with others, each of whom has their own history that brushes against others, spreading outward like an infinite spider’s web of stories.
Obviously it would be impossible to try and chart that web – it would be hard enough to tell the complete story of one individual, because so much of what people do, what they say, how they think, is connected to others. Thus the web begins again. Some stories and characters are so compelling, that many authors have picked up their pens and added their own characters. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a greatly admired novel, so much so that more than ten authors have published novels which either tell the story of life before Pemberley, life after, or life from a different perspective. One of the most notable being Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in which he intersperses Austen’s original novel with his own words, filling the world of Bennet, Darcy and the others with the undead.
It’s easy enough to find the beginning of a story – you normally turn to page one and begin reading. But I’ve been toying with the idea of telling stories that don’t have a definite beginning. They all have a start, a place where the words fall onto the page and begin telling a story. But each tale has an implied message that this is a beginning, not the beginning. This is merely where you pick the story up.
I wrote a short story a while ago that I quite liked. It was only 1500 words, so there wasn’t an opportunity to develop the narrative or characters as extensively as you might in a longer story. After I had finished it, I got to thinking: what other stories link to this one? What other threads of the spider web of stories would be interesting to hear? So I asked a group of friends and colleagues to write them.
My plan was simple: I wanted a group of stories that all linked to each other in some way. This could be through the reappearance of minor character, a shared location, or the witnessing of an event; I wanted the unimportant lady sipping coffee in the background of one story to be the protagonist of the next. I sent my story to one of the other authors and she replied within a few weeks with a beautiful story that linked, in a spider web type way, to mine. It had worked! This story was then sent off to the next author who repeated the process, and produced another great story. Each author only ever saw the story before theirs; I was the only one who saw it all coming together. The author of the last story had a doubly difficult task: his story had to link to the previous story as everyone else’s had, but also to the first story – mine. That way, they created a story circle: no clear beginning, no definite end, just a peek into the maelstrom that is the lives of others.
This first two sets of stories are now done; I hope you read them and enjoy them. As time goes on, I'll upload more and more stories to this site, extending the story-web further and further. That's where you come in. I don't want to write them all; I want to give you a chance to write.
Project number 3 is now live! I'm looking for willing authors to take on the mantle of story telling and be part of weaving this incredible web.
If you would like to write for the site, or if you just want to get in touch, please enter your contact details below.