Now that spring has arrived (for the most part), I thought it would be interesting, and hopefully of some help, to create an analogy between a story and a tree. I think it will work; I’m exploring as I write, so hang in there with me and we’ll see where this thing goes.
Before any seed can take root and grow, it needs to be planted and receive sun, water, and warmth. These are your story ideas, what’s swirling around in your head and waiting anxiously to be given the chance to grow and thrive. Choose your seeds carefully. They must be strong, of good quality, and be able to withstand storms and tossing about. Once you’ve chosen, get them planted in your story. Tend them well and watch the strongest come to life.
Usually, the first signs of growth and life are roots. If you’ve chosen well, they are strong, deep, and able to feed and support your story. These are your main characters, a prominent setting, or an event that anchors your story plot. Make them deep, sturdy, and believable. They must endure and hold fast against the tempest that is occurring above ground.
What starts as a sprouting stem will eventually become a trunk – the link between the roots of your story and all that is going to happen in the branches above. Stuff travels back and forth, up and down the trunk – information, emotions, events, etc. It’s a communication superhighway that sends and receives information, reacts to what has happened in your story, and responds in whatever way you/your characters choose.
The branches. Now things get interesting! Any number of things can happen to any/all of your characters. Send them out on a branch and leave them there. Or, bring them back and send them out on another one. Events and their consequences (intended or otherwise) can send them in one direction or another. One branch can be a choice they’ve made in their life. They can stick with that choice, or they can change their mind and venture out onto another branch (relationship, life choice, geographic location, etc.). Branches are full of possibilities and none of them endless (unless a storm comes, snaps the branch and ends the life of that character). You control the weather, the number of branches, and who goes where.
If nature has been kind, there will be blossoms and perhaps fruit, depending on the kind of tree you’re growing. Maybe you’ll think of these as relationships. Some flourish and bear fruit (i.e. children, money, happiness, fulfillment), while others may fade and drop for lack of nurturing, an unforeseen storm /calamitous event, or it could be that a relationship has run its course and is no longer viable for any number of reasons – all yours to choose and explore.
Is your tree deciduous or evergreen? That will make a difference. Leaves can represent the faithful, steadfast secondary characters/settings that are always there, despite the storms and seasons. Evergreens are a good choice, but sometimes even the faithful and steadfast have their limits or weaknesses. Here one season, gone the next. It’s up to you to decide what kind of tree you want and whether or not you want to deal with the uncertainty and challenge of the human-ness of your loyal characters (which don’t have to be human – they can be a house, a sense of being, or a geographical place that your character has come to know and depend upon).