I was watching The Two Towers with my sisters the other night, and of a sudden Samwise Gamgee's voice forced itself on my ear, and I started to listen to what this most excellent of hobbits was saying. Frankly, on the brink of several new stories and not knowing what I'm to write, (and with my Word trial at an end and all my documents frozen. O.o) and only knowing that this ache deep inside my chest must come out a story somehow, I found this little hobbit's words somewhat prophetic and certainly inspiring:
Frodo: "I can't do this Sam."
Sam: "I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines out it will shine the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had a lot of chance of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something."
Frodo: "What are we holding onto, Sam?"
Sam: "That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo...and it's worth fighting for."
I feel that my fingers are still unfit for war. My words come out clumsy yet. There are deep yearnings and workings in my heart--deep as 'the great stories' Samwise mentions. And yet they don't come out. I am still learning how to bring the vague ache of my heart into a tangible thing. Into words, that it might nestle in someone else's heart and make it ache in that beautiful way.
How can I do this?
That was the question fluttering through my heart and head when Sam came up quite suddenly with this checklist. How do you write one of the great stories?
1.) "...full of darkness and danger, they were." Right. So you've got to have a clear striving between good and evil. Your characters need something huge to fight for. Something that puts their future in peril of they don't attain it. Something dangerous and dark that clearly is attacking the light and must be put back in its place.
2.) "...sometimes you didn't want to know the end..." Suspense. That moment in a book when you're holding it out and away from you in fear of what the next sentence might be while at the same time you wish to hug it close and devour every word. Suspense. Not knowing if the characters will come out all right because, like Sam says, "...how could the end be happy?"
3.) "..A new day will come." A change in the tide. Darkness defeated and Light brought back to its beautiful place.
4.) "...folk in those stories had a lot of chance of turning back, only they didn't." Boom. Determination. Loyalty. Faithfulness. Your characters can't just be valiant from the start. That doesn't make for a gripping story. Those characters don't usually worm their way into your heart. Part of character growth in a story just as in real life is a series of choices. "I set before you today life and death...choose life." It is the best stories that place the characters in multiple situations where nearly everyone concerned would justify them in choosing to turn back. The fact that they don't turn back is what makes the first incision in your heart and hooks you for certain.
5.) "...because they were holding on to something." The reason those characters don't turn back? Usually it's not because they're just plain stupid. Usually it's because there is something bigger than themselves that they're fighting for. That Light. That beauty that has all but been obscured by the darkness. Give your characters a thing that says "Beyond the pain...beyond the scalding heat...there is something. There is a thing I must hold on to till Death releases my hand from the gripping of it."
6.) "That there's some good left in this world...and that it's worth fighting for." The remnant. More than anything else I desire to write a book about the remnant. The tiniest glimmer of hope left in a world that is shadowed. The scrap of a tribe left from ages gone who cling on, oppressed but valiant. The scrap of good we are fighting for. As writers it is up to us to find that remnant, to dig it out, and to fight for it with all we have in our pen.
Who knew a Hobbit could teach me so much about my own writing-craft? Well....Tolkien warned me.
"Hobbits really are amazing creatures, as I have said before. You can learn all there is to learn all there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you at a pinch."