In an interview with the Paris Review earlier this year, the enigmatic Elena Ferrante said:
I don’t think anyone really knows how a story takes shape. When it’s done you try to explain how it happened, but every effort, at least in my case, is insufficient. There is a before, made up of fragments of memory, and an after, when the story begins. …You know how when you have in your head a few notes of a tune but you don’t know what it is, and if you hum it, it ends up becoming a different song from the one that’s nagging at you? Or when you remember a street corner but you can’t remember where it is? That kind of thing. My mother liked to use the word frantumaglia—bits and pieces of uncertain origin which rattle around in your head, not always comfortably.
I’ve been thinking a lot about beginnings, as I recently started a new writing project. As with any new venture, beginning anew is exciting, daunting, overwhelming at times. You need a plan, surely. But also need to leave room for mystery, for opportunities to present themselves to you. As I’m discovering, a story takes shapes in bursts, some born in moments of inspiration, but the vast majority of them in work. Piece by piece the picture will come together, like a kaleidoscopic pattern made up of disparate colors and forms that only make sense once they’ve been taken apart and put back together. The shape of things will reveal itself in time.
Frantumaglia. What a perfect word.