Have you ever had a story or scene to write but struggled with finding a way into it?
I have a friend who’s known for the stories she tells. She’s a keen observer of people and life and has a way of making scenes come alive. By observing her oral storytelling technique, I’ve learned how to find my way into writing scenes and stories.
Storytelling has been used since the beginning of time as a way to process life. Before paper or printing presses existed, stories were told verbally. My friend instinctively adopts the techniques of natural storytelling by creating foreshadowing, suspense, strong images, and closure. When she tells a story, I can tell she feeds off her audience, whether it’s one or several, for cues that her story resonates.
If you’re struggling with how to get into a scene or story, you might try telling it to a friend or two.
While some people say you don’t want to “talk your story out” for fear of losing the energy of it, you might find it could actually be a useful tool if you do it with purpose. Read more
Years ago, when I first started writing prose, I remember a literary agent said he and his wife never watched TV unless they were at the gym or a local bar because they don’t even own a TV. They focus all of their attention on reading.
Looking for role models for my literary life, I thought, “Aha…I won’t watch TV either.” It made sense. Less time in front of the tube equals more time writing or reading. My husband and I didn’t watch much TV anyway, but we did have our favorite shows we’d record and watch later.
At some point in my literary life—after graduating from my MFA program—I realized that being a writer wasn’t just about the ability to write well. Just at important, if not more so, is the ability to tell a good story. Read more
In his acceptance speech for the 2007 Moth award in New York City, author and storyteller Garrison Keillor tells how his life in storytelling began after the drowning of his older cousin. Keillor was supposed to be taking swimming lessons that summer after the drowning but, in his first act of defiance, he rode past the smells of chlorine wafting from the YMCA and continued on to the library where he immersed himself in books and storytelling.
Keillor says the purpose of storytelling is to become intimate with strangers–something he has made his life from in hosting the radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion,” for nearly forty years.
What is the need that drives us to become storytellers? Every writer and storyteller has an event or series of events that brought them to storytelling.
My foray into storytelling was triggered by my mother’s descent into dementia in her mid-sixties. I wanted to tell the story of her difficult life that ended with her eventually forgetting all of her life’s experiences, almost as if the forgetting was a blessing for her.
Watch the 8-minute video below of Keillor and ask yourself what motivates you to be a storyteller:
Story ideas are everywhere but how do you find one that can sustain and excite you through the long process of writing an essay, novel, or even a short story?
Here are three earlier blog posts (including some exercises) to help you find what works for you:
Don’t write what you know, write what sets you free
Write to your white-hot center
Stuck on what to write? Consider these big ideas
To craft a truly great story requires craftsmanship and skill. Unfortunately, many storytellers rely on sensational events or scenes to grab a reader or listener’s interest.
Kevin Hartnett, a staff writer for The Millions, wrote about storytelling in a post, “A Night at The Moth: The Worst Thing that Ever Happened to Me,” that made me think about the anatomy of stories and about first person or dramatic events, in particular.
It can be a temptation to rely on “The worst thing that ever happened to me” stories and think your audience will find them gripping, Hartnett said. But intensely personal or sensational stories have a way of “crowding out the audience,” sucking the life out of them. Read more
In my post, “Six Elements of Great Short Stories,” I wrote about the six things literary agent April Eberhardt said we should think about in our stories: setting, character, point of view, conflict, plot, and theme.
She suggested carrying some index cards with these elements listed and using them when we see something in our daily life that sparks our interest.
She used the example of the day she was driving in the city and saw a car full of nuns next to her. What drew her interest was the unexpected–they were driving a new Lexus and laughing hysterically. She began to wonder about their story.
So, if I take her advice and list the elements of this situation on my index card, it could look something like this: Read more
Literary agent and writing teacher Donald Maass says the most successful novels of the early 21st Century are beautifully written while telling powerful stories. He predicts less focus on genre and more focus on fiction that moves people.
What moves people? What connects readers to the heart of our characters? Emotions.
At the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference last month, Maass spoke about how to achieve an emotional landscape in our novels.
He says to ask yourself what new emotions you’ve experienced this year. Then ask: is there a place in your manuscript where a character can feel this emotion? Read more