Tag Archives: History

Why new writers need the “Make Your Story” series

30 May
Sheherezade

“Scheherezade” by Édouard Frédéric Wilhelm Richter 

I started writing Make Your Story on my blog because I wanted to contribute some of my ideas about imagination, vision, and voice to writers who are just starting out.

Make Your Story is less about how to write a story than it is how to “make” good writing and artwork.

This is because you have lots of options for learning about story and structure as a new writer. I highly recommend that you familiarize yourself with those key elements and here are some great places to start.

In this post, Now Novel has good overarching advice about structure. Follow that blog for solid insights to story, fiction, and the rudiments of writing prose. They always have intelligent things to say about writing.

Writers Digest is always trustworthy and this article by Orson Scott Card is general but excellent.

On a more specific, structural approach, the 7-Point Plot Structure is a good tool to know, and I bet you already do if you’ve seen any Hollywood film more than three times in your life. What you may not know is how to execute it.

If you respond to the 7-point approach and want to know more, check out the Story Structure Database by KM Weiland. This database breaks down an impressive number of contemporary films and classic novels into plot points (almost always the 7-point structure, I believe). This approach doesn’t always work neatly (Moby-Dick wasn’t written to be wedged into this structure) but it’s a terrific resource if you have movies, books, or authors in mind that you want to emulate.

And there are many other great resources. Feel free to mention your favorites in the comments so other writers can check them out!

But I started Make Your Story because, for all the blogs and resources out there about story structure, there’s precious little on the Internet about (a) feeding the imagination, (2) employing personal material in fiction/art, or (c) considering how one sees the world and how to develop a writing aesthetic and voice that express what you see.

This is because people have the expectation that you can teach yourself to do anything on the internet. Wanna grout your bathroom? Change your oil? Pull up a life-hack on Youtube! And it’s totally, utterly awesome that that’s even possible. I believe the modern human species is better for widespread knowledge-sharing.

Storytelling isn’t solely like grouting bathroom tiles, though it can be! Now Noel’s piece on how to use adjectives in fiction takes that approach, and it’s good advice, indeed.

But creative storytelling (fiction or nonfiction) is also learning how to take what you see in the world and make it into a narrative that other people can relate to.

Ever try to tell a story that really happened to you, only to have people read it and say, “That doesn’t seem realistic.” And you think, joke’s on you because THAT’S THE WAY IT REALLY HAPPENED!

Well, the joke isn’t on your audience – it’s on you. All writers do this at some point because they haven’t yet developed a sense for what real-life material works as story or how to deliver it so that it will. We’ll talk about what makes good material and how to use it, in Make Your Story.

Every professional writer dreads the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” Mainly because the answer is so sewn into their DNA and/or brainwaves so intrinsically that they can’t articulate it and know they’ll sound like idiots if they try.  In Make Your Story, we talk about ways to feed your imagination and deepen your pool of available story ideas.

Writing also requires an aesthetic (AKA knowing if your writing is awesome) because at the sentence level, your writing style has to be engaging, beautiful, or seamless/invisible if readers are going to keep reading your work. Do you know what seamless writing looks like? Can you imitate it? What is a beautiful sentence as opposed to purple prose? How do you engage people with words? Great writers typically express their personal aesthetic with a killer writing voice, a skill we’ll talk about here, too.

Lastly, making your own story requires learning how to really see the world, not just repeating what you think you know or churning out cliches. Cliches especially stand in the way of a personal aesthetic/voice and saying what you really want to say. Do you know what that is? Do you know what you’re really looking at when you look at something? Are you sure?

What about the name? Why “make your story” and what does that mean?

Minneapolis photographer Doug Beasley refers to photography as “making a photograph,” not “taking” one. “Taking” a picture is quick and sounds underhanded while “making” a picture is mindful, takes a little time. “Telling” a story is similar. It sounds like it’s all done, waiting inside you until you are ready to spill it, like Sheherezade famously did for 1001 nights in a  row, when really, writing or telling a story is usually a creative, mindful process (and often a slow one).

So please join me and let’s talk about how to make your story.

Make Your Story: Reframing a Childhood

30 May
Kaj_Family_reunion_group_1988

How many points of view are in this picture?

 

Have you ever imagined scenes from your life story using entirely different points of view?

I don’t know why you would. Your story is your story because it’s yours, and your point of view matters most in your own story.

Recently, I was given reason to re-examine key scenes in my childhood. New information reorganized everything. It made me wonder why I hadn’t seen it or even guessed it before, and why I needed this Other Truth in order to see my story from a different point of view. There was no way to know this Truth, but I’m imaginative – I might have guessed.

How about you? What didn’t you see? What couldn’t you have known?

Your story is the sum of the decisions you make, but, always, around that story are family, friends, teachers, allies, coaches, clergy, neighbors, social workers, previously unknown family members, police officers, your parents’ co-workers, maybe even political figures or celebrities, all making decisions that impacted you, maybe in ways you could not control, and never fully appreciated until later. Until now.

A story changes dramatically depending on who tells it. Can you imagine your story told from another point of view? Is it possible to tell our own stories where we are not the champion achieving, the victim suffering, or the young hero struggling, where we are something else than we’ve been telling ourselves our whole lives?

Because we are. We take on different archetypal roles, in differing points of view.

Writing Prompt #1: Recall a figure from your past who made a decision that had life-changing impact on you. Don’t pick anything overly traumatic or devastating, please.  (We’ll get to those sorts of scenes another time). Pick a figure from your past who diverted your course or changed your point of view dramatically.

Imagine that person, their decision, and a scene that exemplifies their agenda,  position, and biases. Write from their specific angle, not through your eyes. Imagine the scene through their profession, age, gender, and with their senses. Get in their bodies to write.

Render this re-envisioning as realistically as possible. Tell the story as straight as you can, as respectfully to the other person’s agenda as you can.

Write 500 words. Keep your hand/fingers moving until you reach the word count. Don’t stop. Don’t second-guess. Don’t edit.

Writing Prompt #2: Pick a scene from your life (childhood?) with lots of people in it. A religious gathering where something big was revealed or a wild drunken family reunion with tension about money, ancient intergenerational grievances. It’s gotta have some edge to it, and you need to have been there.

Write that well-known scene from the point of view of someone other than you and preferably not someone close to you or in your sphere of immediate influence. Pick someone whose actions and reactions will be remarkably different if not “opposite” from the way you and the way you’ve remembered this scene.

For this one, it’s ok to really let your imagination fly. Bring in fantastical elements if you like, if that helps you imagine other agendas. Doesn’t have to be starkly realistic.

Write 500 words. Keep your hand/fingers moving until you reach the word count.

 

Photo credit: By Family assistant (Demitz files, acquired by FamSAC) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Make Your Story: The Night Book

23 May
nymph and satyr

Nymph and satyr: A Roman Mosaic in the Basilica of Cylene

Around the year 400 CE, the Greek Bishop Synesius of Roman Cylene wrote about dreams for his children in a book titled On dreams (De insomniis). In it, he claims dreams are divine revelations, or, alternatively, they’re diviners. Each of us has a personal fortune teller inside us, says Synesius, comparing dreams to a “prophetess” and calling them “our oracle.” All of us have access to this oracle and she is with us, always:

Even if we remain at home, [our oracle] dwells with us; if we go abroad she accompanies us; she is with us on the field of battle, she is at our side in the life of the city; she labors with us in the fields and barters with us in the market place. 

I like this a lot. “Our oracle” is not a visitor coming to us only at night. She’s like a guardian angel, standing at our sides constantly, and almost 1500 years before Freud recommended keeping a dream journal in order to better remember dreams, Synesius recommended keeping what he calls a “night book.” But it’s not merely to better remember dreams, according to Synesius. A night book is for the betterment of one’s spiritual (mental?) health:

One ought to keep both a “day-book” and a ” night-book “…and so have memoranda of what goes on in one’s ordinary life and in one’s dreams. I have tried to show that the life of Imagination is better or worse, according to the state of health in which the spirit finds itself.

Where Synesius hits the mark deepest is in this: A balanced self addresses our beloved oracle, our Imagination, our dreams. By incorporating dreams into our everyday perspective, it broadens and deepens our ability to perceive and to articulate by forcing us to contemplate the dream story.

A dream places all kinds of contradictory states before us, together. Imagination thus sets them forth; but how is anyone to describe them? No stern law can prevent the magnificent flights of fancy in which a sleeping person indulges. In sleep, he holds converse with stars and associates with the gods who are invisible in the world; he understands even the inarticulate sounds of the lower animals. Just imagine what it would be to attempt a description of all this.

This is excellent advice for any writer or artist, in any genre. To write down your dreams is to record a story that your Imagination is constantly narrating, about your labor in the fields, about your fields of battle. Ignoring this ongoing, incessant narrative means ignoring half your mind, a third of your life.

Consider that as you contemplate telling your stories.

Writing Prompt #1: Keep your hand moving or fingers typing until the word count is achieved. DO NOT STOP. Write down the most recent dream you can remember. If you can’t remember one, write down any dream you can remember. If you tell the dream before the 500 words is up, start writing down what you think it means.

Writing Prompt #2: Keep your hand moving until the word count is achieved. DO NOT STOP. Take a striking, strange image from a dream, recent or not, and give it its own unique reality in a story. Try to retain the mood it gave you in the dream. Or give it a new life and meaning. Let it be a symbol on its own in your writing.

Go back to the beginning of my series Make Your Story.