Are stories out there, waiting to be discovered, dusted off, and launched into the world?
Stephen King thinks so. “Stories are found things, like fossils in the ground,” he says in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
As a plotter (who outlines, as compared to a “pantser” who writes by the seat of their pants), I’ve always been skeptical.
But then I saw a quote on the wall of an exhibit on archeology at the Natural History Museum of Utah: “It’s not what you find, it’s what you find out.”
And it hit me: Writers are, in fact, archeologists. It’s just that we’re creating the bones ourselves, as well as giving them life through story.
We create what readers find through plot, setting, and characters. But that's just a start. We then use subplot, context, and voice to give them something to find out.
We can either stumble upon our story as we wander around in our wild, subconscious mind, or carry the map we prepared with our methodical, conscious mind.
Either way, as Stephen King notes, a writer’s job “is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”