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Sometimes you have to turn a story inside out to find the real one.

Angela, a writing group friend, has been struggling with a story that just didn’t seem to be going anywhere. “It doesn’t have any tension,” she observed. “Nothing is really happening. Nobody would read more than a page or two.”

“So, why did you write this story? Why is it important to you?” another member asked.

Angela’s voice was tentative as she began to explain. When she got to one element she had stashed in a single paragraph near the end, she exclaimed, “I really have two stories here!” A jolt of electricity pulsed through the group.

We realized that her true and powerful story is buried deep inside the presenting story. That tiny seed of real story is where all the conflict and tension is, and the outer story seems almost dead, because it is only a shell. After Angela pulls the true story into the dominant position and gives it proper attention, the dull part will become relevant and lively.

A mental movie ran through my mind. I saw a drawstring bag made of  filmy pastel silk print, lined with velvet. It was a little wider than a fist, and deep enough to bury a hand. I reached into the depths of the bag, relishing the feel of rich velvety softness. I felt a lump attached to the bottom. When I pulled to remove the lump, the bag inverted. A rich velvet bag now encased the silk one. A velvet-wrapped lump lay in my hand, well-padded and still hidden. It turned out to be a large jewel, sparkling in sunlight.

Thinking about the image of that bag, I recognize it as a metaphor. The original ephemeral story, bland and sweet, was hiding a true and powerful one. The bag hid and padded the jewel, removing the life that light imparts to it, and keeping it secret.

Why would you hide a jewel? I wondered. You may hide it to protect it — from thieves, dust, getting lost — and to keep its sharp facets from scratching things. Maybe you hide it because you don’t want to seem like a show off, have no place to wear it, or don’t think it’s real.

You may even hide it because it’s magic and you fear its power. (Angela’s Inner Censor may have hidden it without her knowing.) Or — you may not have realized the bag was magic! It was a lovely bag the way it was. Who knew treasures lurked in its depths?

Angela’s enthusiasm grew as she discussed her plans for revision, and I have no doubt that the new version will crackle with tension and energy.

Besides the jewel, that magic bag held some writing tips. If you are struggling with a story

  • Ask yourself, Why did I write this story? What matters? What’s the real story here?
  • You’ll know when you find the real story. You’ll experience a surge of energy and excited recognition.
  • Find a good writing group or writing buddy to help you discover your treasures.
  • Be patient. You won’t find your jewel until it’s ready to be found.

 Sometimes the best stories are hidden inside our old ones.

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