Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Alchemy of Stories

I think human nature has always been intrigued with the idea of taking any sort of basic raw material and transforming it into something infinitely more valuable. Alchemy is defined in my dictionary as a medieval science which attempted to change ordinary metals into gold. Most of us are familiar with the fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin, the cunning little fellow who was able to pull this feat off with straw, making him one of history's most successful alchemists.

My dictionary goes on to give a second definition of alchemy; any strange or mysterious process or change. That is where I believe writers and storytellers come into it.

Think of this. An author has a fascinating idea for the plot of a story in her mind. She mulls over it, daydreaming a cast of living, breathing characters. The more time she spends on this, the more real they become, with vivid faces she can see in her mind's eye and voices she can hear in her mind's ear. As their interactions with each other in the setting she devises for them take shape in her mind, she begins to think of them as some of her best friends. However at this stage, they are still confined to the inside of her own head.

Then the author decides to make a wonderful bit of alchemy happen. She transforms the characters and images in her head to marks upon a page. In my case, according to my family, it begins with illegible scrawling on a lined pad. I can write neater when I need to, but when I'm writing stories my mind races and the pen in my hand needs to keep up with it. Then these messy, handwritten pages are transformed to typed, 1.5 spaced lines on A4 paper. When an author is really lucky and blessed, these eventually become a novel or book with a lovely glossy or matte cover reflecting part of what the pages contain.

Now more alchemy takes place. A reader comes along, likes the look of the cover and the sound of the blurb on the back, and decides it might be worth spending a bit of time reading this novel. He opens it up and begins reading the typed words and letters upon each of the pages. And the story ignites in his head. The characters described with those basic words and letters begin to live and breathe for him just as they did for the author while they were still confined in her own head. He can see their faces in his mind's eye and hear their voices in his mind's ear. Maybe he begins to think of them as some of his best friends too, at least for the duration of the story. He finds himself drawn into the action of the plot and can't turn the pages fast enough to find out what is going to happen.

Friends, we are all alchemists, writers and readers alike, of a far more superior sort than Rumplestiltskin. A great, engrossing story has more potential to bless and change lives and evoke more tears and laughter than mere gold. I've just finished reading a wonderful fantasy tale which pulled me to places far away. As a writer, my hope is always to bless others as much as others have blessed, and still continue to bless me.

Award winning author Paula Vince always wanted to write fiction and loves to evoke tears and laughter. Her novels include a fantasy/adventure trilogy for young adults and four contemporary dramas with elements of romance, mystery and suspense. She lives with her family in South Australia's beautiful Adelaide Hills which she uses as the setting for several of her novels. Paula is also passionate about homeschooling her three children. Her novel, "Picking up the Pieces" recently won first prize in the religious fiction section of the International Book Awards for 2011.

Visit her website Apple Leaf Books
Visit her personal blog It Just Occurred to Me


  1. Love this Paula. I've never thought of it like this before. I will have to go away now and mull this over. Thanks for the wonderful insight. :0)

  2. Never thought of it before like that either but it does make sense.

  3. It is a magical thought, that. We turn ideas and words into gold for others to enjoy. Well stated Paula. Thanks.

  4. Great post, Paula. Love the way you've expressed what writers all over the world do.

    I've always been fascinated by science fiction stories that feature alchemy. :)


  5. Thanks everyone, I think it always gives us a bit of impetus to keep working when we think of new ways of thinking of why we do what we do.

  6. Whew, that came out as a bit of a tongue twister, but I'm sure you know what I mean.

  7. Paula, fascinating post! I love becoming so absorbed in a book that time suspends and I nearly feel depressed when the story ends and I have to return to the real world, often at 2 or 3am when I should be asleep :)

  8. You have woven your own magic in our thinking Paula. Awesome.

  9. Yes, Paula, it does seem as if we work a bit of magic in our stories! Those characters of ours seem every bit as real as friends. But there's always a troubled soul who makes things difficult for them. Adding all those quirks, strengths, and weaknesses make them really come alive. Probably because we've met folk just like them in real life. And that helps readers to easily identify.

  10. Hi Narelle, Jo and Rita,
    I can definitely relate to and agree with exactly what you're all saying.

  11. Beautifully written Paula. You gave me goosebumps! And another reason to keep tinkering with my own spun straw!

  12. Just read your lovely blog Paula. Many thanks. A very intriguing and interesting way of looking at Writers and Readers. Thank you. You sure are good at evoking laughter and tears which happened to me too as I read your last book which was exactly my kind of story. Looking forward to the next one.