After I posted So, What IS a Story? last week, where I attempted to break down the type of story told in fast-paced commercial fiction into its components, one of the commenters quite rightly pointed out that I'd forgotten the most important ingredient of all - the sprinkle of fairy dust.
If a story is the engine of a book, then the Inciting Incident, the quest, the obstacles you place in your main character's way to stop them acheiving their goal are the parts of that engine – the pistons, bearings, pins and cranks. Essential, if a little mundane.
But fairy dust? Fairy dust is the fuel that makes it all work.
It's that surge of excitement when a new idea blossoms in your mind, seemingly out of nowhere. It's that moment when you get a sentence down and it says exactly what you meant it to say. It's the shape of your words in your head and on your tongue, as scenes you've dreamt about for days, weeks, months, years come to life. That fizzing in your fingertips as ideas pour out of them faster than you can type or write.
It's the moment someone gets on the bus you're riding to work and they ARE your main character, or you hear a song and know instantly it was written for the story you're trying to tell. And it's that feeling you carry around with you for days after someone reads the pages you've given them, trying to hide the fact that you just handed them your soul, and tells you you can do this, carry on.
But it's more than that, even.
At first, trying to fit the principles of storytelling to your work can seem dull and uninspiring. It certainly did to me. I was outlining stories which adhered exactly to the structure in the diagram in last week's post… and they were so boring, they never got written.
But then I discovered YA. I discovered stories and characters I could connect with, and now, instead of trying to come up with plots that fitted a particular structure, I was coming up with ideas I really cared about, and learning how to use that structure to turn them into stories that actually worked. And that excitement, that magic is still with me now.
So more than anything, fairy dust is this: telling the stories that come from our hearts.