• Horst Kornberger

How to Write a Story

The imagination is the essential, indispensable tool for writing a story, and one of the best ways to develop this ability is through the making of metaphoric stories.

The process is simple. Students chose a topic and then translate this topic into a metaphor or ‘seed image’. They start with this initial image in their mind’s eye. This image is then further elaborated. The image is worked with until it unfolds into a story. The challenge for the writer is to use imagination rather than intellect, to think in pictures rather than concepts. To do this is not easy. To allow an image to freely unfold is a fine art that requires practice.

Most students will experience a definite struggle between their intellect and their imagination. The mindset they have will battle with the one they aspire to. This results in tales dominated by the intellect: the plot feels contrived or too clever, the outcome predictable; the composition lacks a sense of wholeness and the writing has no lustre.

The reason for this is reliance on linear thinking and the scientific paradigm that underpins it. Creative writers are not, of course, necessarily scientists. Yet they, like everyone else, have imbibed the scientific paradigm. Like a fish in water they are unaware of the water that is in and around them. And the moment they attempt to engage their imagination in earnest, their intellectual habits spring up to constrain them.

A creative writing teacher can usually tell when this happens. After a while students will start to notice it in the work of their fellow writers. In time they may come to recognise it in their own writing, in hindsight at first and eventually during the process of writing itself. Then they are not far from allowing the image to develop of its own accord, without interference from the intellect or from their subjective psychology. The former ties the writer to collective conventions, the latter to their personality. Both relate to the past.

Both are left behind the moment the writer stays fully present in the forming of images. The metaphoric mind, rather than relying on what already is, opens to the future. Undetermined by what is known, the imagination engages with the here and now of everything new. The moment the writer is able to live into one image and then see it through to the next, the writing becomes fresh. The plot, though unpredictable, possesses a logic of its own. Beginning, middle and end form a coherent arc. Every part of the story resonates with every other and reveals an indivisible totality. Everywhere is necessity and nowhere coercion. This is the natural state of a tale that has been allowed to unfold of its own accord.

The end of such stories is both surprising and obvious. Surprising because there was no way of foreseeing it. Obvious because it fits seamlessly with the arc of the tale.

A good story achieves this by means of metaphor; firstly, through the ability of metaphors to unite separate things and ally them to what is intrinsically whole. And secondly, through the innate mobility that allows metaphors to resonate with what wished to emerge from the future: the right story for the situation, a therapeutic metaphor to help a child, or a client an image that bears a transformative charge. 

Article adapted from The Delphi Project by Horst Kornberger

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