The Story Before

Ann H Gabhart Ann's Posts, One Writer's Journal

It was a busy weekend around here. Actually I don’t suppose I was around here all that much. We were on the road to speeches and movies and weddings and singings. Friday I had the privilege of speaking to a group of grandparent tutors at their recognition and appreciation luncheon. It was good to hear about this great program to teach kids to read. These “grannies” and “grandpas” go into the schools and work with maybe five or six kids on their reading skills in half hour sessions four days a week. I once did some adult literacy teaching and I know how rewarding it is to teach a person to read. And these grannies and grandpas, on top of the satisfaction of knowing they have started these students toward a better future in school, they get lots of smiles and hugs from the kids who love the special attention. All the grandparents I talked to had a special spring to their step and a happy twinkle in their eyes. While most had a whole crew of grandkids and great grandkids of their own, they were happy to add a few “foster” grandkids. Many of them had been working with the program for five or more years and planned to keep at it as long as they were able. The program is funded by a government “Save the Children” grant. It’s good to hear of a program that’s working.

Since the day for writing was pretty much shot anyway, on the way home from Berea we stopped in Danville and treated ourselves to a movie. We deserved a good one since we’d gone out on our anniversary to a movie that had to be the worst movie ever. So we picked Robin Hood. That brings me to the story before. That’s what the movie was. I kept waiting for them to be hiding out in the forest and robbing the rich to give to the poor. You know, how I’d always heard the story of Robin Hood. But this Robin Hood was out there fighting with the kings, defending England against France, falling in love with Marion. I hadn’t realized it was the story before. At the end of the movie it said “And the legend begins.” The movie gave a new slant on Robin Hood and wasn’t the same bit over.

That got me to thinking about the story before. While I don’t always write the story before when I’m writing my books, I need to know it. What brought my characters to this moment in their lives? What has happened to them in the past to make them the people they are in this story at this time? While we do grab characters out of our imaginations, the best characters are the ones we get to know. We go back and meet their parents. We look around at the school they attended, at the jobs they may have had before our story begins. We know what colors they like and whether ragweed makes them sneeze. Best of all we get to know what they want and what they’re willing to do to make their dreams come true. The story before. This movie told Robin Hood’s before story the same as the Star Wars movies did a few years back when they went back in time for the beginning of the drama. Everybody has a story before and so do our characters. It’s a writer’s challenge to weave bits of that story before into the story now in such a way that a reader gets to know our characters so well that the characters become real in their imaginations just as they are real in the storyteller’s mind.

In the books you read, do you like knowing the story before or do you want to fly on with the story now?