I have invited several of my writing colleagues to share an essay in answer to this prompt: “What lingers in your memory about a specific place, perhaps a recent vacation or a place you’ve lived? How did this place, or your travels, influence your creative process?” Writer Maggie Moris shares this essay.
One blustery afternoon, several years ago, I set out to capture the muted colors of a cloudy day. Deep in the late autumn woods I came across an old stump, twisted and squat, dark and dying. The broken top bent over at a sharp angle above a diamond shaped hole. I circled around and took a photo as the kraa, kraa, kraa of an unseen raven beckoned overhead and a gusty breeze teased up the musty smell of leaf litter.
Only later, when I scanned through the day’s images, did I see a horse peering back at me. For when I’d snapped the picture, I had only seen what I expected to see—the stubborn remains of a nearly dead tree. The experience was a good reminder to always look again and peer deeper at the natural world.
As a writer something similar happens when I first discover my story characters. I make assumptions about their true nature. To fully “see” them I have to ask many, many questions, but most especially: “What secret do you harbor?” and “What dream do you guard?”
The answers that I get from both heroes and villains offer unexpected glimpses into their complicated hearts. I might learn that my main character was once cruel or that my villain pursued a great passion, but failed. Often, I am taken aback and moved by what I find.
Just as I was on that day when I discovered the secret heart of a dying tree who once dreamed of being a mighty steed—strong enough to race a raven, swift enough to catch the wind.
Maggie Moris had the great good fortune to grow up in her own 100-acre woods in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, where protective oak trees and curious animals had as large a hand in her upbringing and formation as did her parents. She is currently working on the first book of a middle-grade fantasy series featuring a world of talking ravens: The Corvamoor Chronicles. She is represented by Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency.
2 thoughts on “Look Again”
Great insights, photo, artist’s eye, writer’s heart! Last paragraph. Weaver of words strung together like an enchantress’s powerful potion. Pure magic! Wanted to take her hand deep into that woods where ravens guide believers in wonder to living fairy tales.
Thank you, Judith. You are such a kindred spirit.