A good place to begin your fiction is out of your own experience. This is not to say you should write an autobiography. Instead, look at your own life and to try to make sense of certain moments — perhaps small moments that represent some larger truth. Regarding the autobiographical impulse in fiction, one of the questions I hear most often in workshops is a variation of this: At which point might I enter the morass of my life and write a story? A handy answer to anyone who asks that question: At a point when something significant changed. A graduation. A marriage. A death. First love. First sex. First heartbreak. Another answer: At a moment that has universal or widespread resonance. Christmas. A birthday. The fourth of July. The festival of Diwali. Tet. Make a list of five turning points in your own life and note the years in which those turning points occurred. Now make a list of historical connections to those years. What happened in the news, in sports, in politics, in entertainment? Think about how (if at all) your life was influenced or impacted by those apparently surface events. You may discover that moments in your life that felt divorced from the march of history were actually quite connected with the larger picture on some level. When I recall 1970, for instance, I see myself as a confused and vaguely sad adolescent; in the pictures I form in my memory from that time, I see a certain listlessness and passivity. I'm sure all the marijuana didn't help, but I also recall that that was the year the Beatles broke up. In 1964, when I was eight years old, the Beatles entered my life and the lives of others as a powerful, positive, joyful, rebellious influence. Could storytelling with data be of real value to your business?
Over the next six years, their music and their lives affected many people on a deeply personal level, often on a daily basis. What did it mean to me then, in 1970, that they had disintegrated in acrimony? With what awareness did my stoned, fourteen-year-old consciousness confront this fact? And what did it mean to others, since I was by no means the only one affected? Autobiography and its connection to history can lead to resonant fiction. Another place to start is with a story you were told by someone else. How would you represent that story if you had to write it? Where would the emphasis be? How would you render the setting? How would you capture the voices of the participants? The first story I ever wrote was really a transcription of a story that had been told to me by my brother about something that had happened to him, not me. He had recently graduated boot camp at the U.S. Marine Corps' Parris Island training grounds. While there, the worst trouble he'd gotten into occurred when the drill instructor discovered that my brother had left his footlocker unlocked. In a rage, the DI overturned the footlocker and spilled its contents onto the floor, where he found, rolling about in the mess, several plums my brother had taken from the mess hall. If failing to lock a footlocker is a misdemeanor, taking food from the mess hall is a high crime. If you know anything about the Marine Corps, boot camp, or drill instructors, you can imagine the paroxysms of outrage the DI went into over the issue of the unauthorized plums. I knew something about all three — the Marines, boot camp, and Dis. My father was a Marine and served for six years. He went through Parris Island's boot camp not once, but twice (the Corps nullified his first graduation when they discovered that he'd enlisted under an alias while underage), and he returned to Parris Island as a DI several years after his second graduation. Would storytelling in business help your organisation?
I wrote a story of sorts (a bagatelle?) called “The Poor Boot's Fruit,” in which I imagined my father as the DI (of course) and myself (mixed with my brother) as the poor boot. That helped me. I later learned that my story had violated some rules (I was working with a selective omniscience, which is generally reserved for one point of view, but I used several points of view at will and at random), and I then understood why the story didn't fully work — why the story wasn't really a story, but an anecdote, a vignette, a bagatelle. However, I had managed to come up with a piece that did a little of what my brother's story did for me: It made me laugh. And I recognized in it certain character types: a decent enough guy who violates a small, seemingly senseless rule, and a maniacal tyrant who goes ballistic at the slightest infraction. And I recognized certain themes inherent in what had captured my imagination: brutal, perhaps arbitrary authority; rebellion; father-son conflict (later, I would call it Oedipal drama); the world of men, order, regimentation, and physicality; and that world's impositions on the imagination and pleasure. You can't make discoveries about character types, humor, personal themes, the nature of your imagination, and a whole lot of other things critical to the development of a writer if you don't get the material on the page. And you can't get the material on the page if you're hung up about rules. I think that starting with a story that makes you laugh is a good idea. Starting with your parents is even better. Have you tried storytelling for business to boost customer engagement?