How to tell if you merely have the elements of a story or have become transported to the interior of these said elements, in effect Jonah being swallowed by the whale:
If you merely have the elements or concept for a story, you are not overly concerned with the personality and thrust of the characters; you are merely smug with having another idea, one of several hundred or perhaps even several thousand such ideas since the early days when the mere word story held a kind of luminescence you could scarcely begin to define, and thus your stories came forth as though the plots were the characters and the characters were drawn not so much from the people you saw or imagined as much as from the characters haunting the plots of other writers.
You feel a kind of smugness because, after all, having the elements of a story is no small thing nor even a mid-ranged thing, it is what you do and what you should, after all, be doing. If you are out with some friends and one of them says that he or she is putting a transaction together, a real estate deal, say, or a law case, or even some kind of imaginative marketing plan, you would have no qualms saying you had a story in the works. You might even be aware or think you were aware of them, the non-writers, expressing some form of regret, even though they were going to be realizing more money, perhaps even some sort of promotion as a result of their transaction, while you are more likely to be looking at a rejection slip or two.
You might even have a page or two of notes you scribbled down to preserve the concept for the story, along with some vital dramatic question you would need to answer before you could actually begin writing text.
All well and good, but you are not yet inside, the literary equivalent of the story being the elephant in the living room of your mind.
You are not in until it begins appearing when you least expect it, getting under your feet, your skin, and your patience, getting, for that matter, into everything around you to the point where the characters are slipping you notes telling you the names they have chosen for themselves, possibly leaving hints about individualistic details such as nick names, shoe sizes, relationships, food dislikes, job, agenda. When you begin making excuses for not doing the things you have more or less accepted responsibility for, when you begin laughing aloud at the mischievousness of the inherent humor of a situation, when you begin exacting revenge on real-life situations by your portrayal of fanciful ones, then you are in, deeply and with no escape hatch.
If you are truly in, it might allow you some time off for things such as coffee, meals, peeing, walking with the dog, but it has a serum such as the female mosquito has when she bites you and in the process thins your blood to make it draw easier. It owns you, which is all right because you want to be owned in this way, spend a bunch of your time flirting about with ideas so that you will be picked up for a spell and owned.
It owns you the way a hooker owns a john; it knows all the right things to say to you; it lives in the truth of the lame excuses you give when you get caught. Modern audiences think Pinkerton somewhat of a user and a wretch because of what he has in mind for Butterfly and because of the way he treats her. We know what Pinkerton tells Butterfly and why he tells her. He was away from home. He was lonely. In certain parts of the world we would even say he was horny and you have to understand that. But that is all bullshit. Being in the story means you are on the high of feeling brilliant, mesmerizing, your intellect, artistic reach, and emotional spectrum unparalleled. You are about to be entering an artistic mating with an animal that devours its creator, will even tell said creator how brilliant he or she is while the process is going on, but then comes dump city. Some women delivering children experience postpartum depression; you experience being dumped after the story is finished, led to believe you have given all you had and, just when you could use perhaps a pat on the head, you are cut loose, done, over with.
Until the next time.
Ah, next time.