On Stories as Venn Diagrams

Kirsty Logan muses upon the overlap between stories. Kirsty’s lovely story for enLIGHTen is called ‘Sleep Pictures’ and it responds to the words of Alison Rutherford, Lady Cockburn being projected upon 175 Rose Street.

Every story I write overlaps with the one written before it and the one written after it. I like to think of it as a Venn diagram – remember those? The things you drew in school, with two circles that overlapped to create a shared area. It’s used to show the differences and similarities between two things. I’ve never gone so far as to actually draw Venn diagrams for my stories – well, maybe once or twice, but then I have also drawn flowcharts and mind-maps and line-graphs for stories. Procrastination, what’s that?

My girlfriend, a graphic designer, tells me that the same thing happens with her website designs. Each website she builds has something in common with the one before it and the one after it, so if you wanted to you could follow an artist’s work, linking their pieces together like a string of beads. But beads that overlapped, which doesn’t really make sense, so I’m sticking to the Venn diagram analogy.

These overlapping elements can’t be predicted. It might be that a writer has just learned some bizarre historical tidbit, and can’t shake it until they’ve written about it a couple of times. Or a designer has learned a new skill, and wants to show it off before they get bored and want to learn something new.

Here’s an example: Last month I wrote a story called ‘Girl #18’ about a teenage boy on Skye who is haunted by the twin sister he accidentally killed in a car crash. It’s one of the last stories for the short story collection I’m working on, The Rental Heart and Other Curiosities. I’m also editing my first novel, Rust and Stardust, which is also set on a Hebridean island and is also about a teenager with a dead sibling. Although the tone and content of the novel and the story are very different, there were some definite overlaps.
Then the lovely Peggy from the enLIGHTen project commissioned me to write a story inspired by both the Roxburghe Hotel on Rose Street and Lady Cockburn’s quote: “There is nothing so pleasant and wholesome to the human heart as to love and be loved”. So I wrote ‘Sleep Pictures’, a short monologue from a lovesick ghost haunting the hotel where their beloved returns every anniversary. It’s pretty far away from Rust and Stardust, but it’s much closer to ‘Girl #18’. Although I didn’t mean for it to happen, certain elements of that story seemed to seep into ‘Sleep Pictures’. The ghost, of course, but also descriptions of the wind off the sea and the physical nature of hauntings.

After that, I wrote a very short film script for the fabulous ladies of Lock Up Your Daughters. It’s called ‘The Ghost Room’ and it’s about a woman who returns to the same hotel room every year to try to communicate with her ex-girlfriend. We’re now getting very far away from Rust and Stardust and pretty far from ‘Girl #18’, but still extremely close to ‘Sleep Pictures’. The practice of returning to the hotel every anniversary is the most obvious similarity, but ‘The Ghost Room’ doesn’t actually have a ghost or a haunting – at least not in the more literal, physical sense of the previous two stories.

It may seem that I am obsessed with ghosts, but I haven’t written about them since writing these three pieces. They had their little Venn diagram overlap, and now they’re done. After the script I wrote another story about a troubled lesbian relationship, but without hotels or anniversaries – so there’s a new overlap. I haven’t written another story since then, so I’ve yet to discover what from this new story will bleed into the next. My newest obsessions seem to be circuses, tigers, animal teeth and pro-wrestling, so I can only hope that this will lead to some interesting overlaps.

So am I the only person who thinks of their stories in terms of diagrams? Have you ever noticed similar patterns of overlap in your own work? Tell us over at #edLIGHTen…