Mommy, tell me a story?

October 4, 2007 at 10:51 pm | Posted in creativity, imagination, Meg, story, storytelling | Leave a comment

My son loves books and stories. When he was younger we’d sit in the rocking chair and I’d create fantasies of his exploits with superheroes, dinosaurs and Peter Pan. His begging and whining for more kept him up long past bedtime so I had to create a story to limit the stories.

That is how Sagabell came into our lives. Sagabell is Tinkerbell’s sister and the Fairy of the Story. In the magic tree in Neverland, she weaves elaborate tales of mischief and fun. Each night she flies to our home and if my son is fast asleep, Sagabell leaves her handiwork in our magic story jar. If she finds him awake, her tiny wings fly her home and we have no adventure to ‘read’ the next night. And since she’s so small, she can only bring three stories to us. Then it’s lights out and off to sleep as fast as can be.

Believe it or not, this worked every night. Bedtime was a joy and we both looked forward to seeing if Sagabell came. He took his stories out of the magical jar, told me who was in them and listened attentively. Of course, he often tried to convince me Sagabell had snuck in an extra small account of life on Neverland and sometimes she did. That pixie couldn’t resist his excitement and cute freckles (or fairy kisses) anymore than I could.

Unfortunately, Sagabell no longer visits us. My son has outgrown his nap and falls asleep too quickly at bedtime for a story. Believe me, I’m not complaining, but sometimes I miss those moments when we escaped into a magical world where he battled Captain Hook or when Timmy the T-Rex moved into the neighborhood.

I loved that time for many reasons, one being that it reminded me how important the story is. You can have wonderful characters gifted with the ability to fly, but without having something for them to do, they just hover in the air. The story is in the action. The verbs we use to tell what’s going on. The answer to “and then what did he do?” Or “then what happened?” And “why?” That was how Sagabell came about- the ever present why in a toddler’s vocal repertoire.

Me: You can’t have another story tonight.
Son: Why?
Me: Um, because there aren’t anymore to tell.
Son: Why?
Me: (insert pause as I scramble for a good enough answer to stop the inquisition) Because the story fairy didn’t bring anymore last night.
Son: Why?

If you’ve ever been around a toddler in this phase, you know what I’m talking about. And I’m sure you had a limit on your creativity and finished with “Because I said so!” Unfortunately, in writing, we don’t get a “Because I said so!” We have to take the story to its end, even when we have no idea what to do with flying heroes. And when you’re stuck, use a toddler to prompt you with that wonderful “why” or “and then what does she do?” (I don’t recommend a real one in case you have limited patience- pretend or ask a grownup to help you). You’ll be amazed how quickly you get to the root of the story arc when pestered. Then you’ll have something exciting for the flying hero to do, something unique and attention grabbing so the reader will want you to put another story in their jar.

-Meg

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Story Serendipity

October 3, 2007 at 6:40 pm | Posted in Bria, Fast Draft, story, storytelling, writing, young adult | 3 Comments

I did a read-through of my YA Fantasy and shocked myself. There were moments of brilliance that had nothing to do with my conscious brain — moments of Story Serendipity.  

The final page of the manuscript is concerned with the return of the heroine (lots of under-story there, so bear with me.) In a show of humility, she kneels before the prince submitting herself for punishment or forgiveness. 

I remembered writing the scene. I love the scene. I love the end of my manuscript, it ties a lot together. It shows her growth as well as his new knowledge of himself.  

What I didn’t remember, even though I was consciously trying to run their lives in parallels, was the prince, when he rebelled against his bounds, returned home to ask for forgiveness and acceptance. He did this, in the same room, during the same meal by kneeling before the king. 

I knew I wanted the two stories to echo one another. I knew having similar experiences was the only thing that was going to over come the hurdles the two characters faced. 

What I expected to happen was to write two scenes and — with my luck — fall in love with both of them. Then, in attempt to weave continuity, I would pick the one that worked the best and throw away most of the other. 

But then I did my read through and thought “Wow! This is going to work.” One is a Prodigal Son story and one is a Coming of Age story. They are told in different ways — one we’re there and one we’re told about —  but they work together perfectly. 

I’m a huge believer in playing the “What did I learn” game. And here is what I learned writing my story AND plot: I live it. It’s in my head and it’s so real that things I didn’t know existed come to the surface – especially when Fast Drafting (Candy said it would, but hey, I doubt me not her.) The telling becomes something close to recounting a trip to a friend – I was there, I know what happened. 

So, Story Serendipity — it happens to all of us.  When did it happen to you? Let me know, then Go Write

-bria

All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men

October 1, 2007 at 8:52 am | Posted in Jessica, plotting, story, storytelling, writing | 1 Comment

What does story mean to you?

“Call me Ishmael.”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .”

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

“It was a dark and stormy night . . .”

“Once upon a time . . .”

Our topic this week is a timely one for me because as I try to tear apart the book I just finished (with the intention of somehow putting it back together again) and try to brainstorm the pieces for the next book I want to write, I am struggling with the whole idea of story.

And oddly enough, Jessica Faust, literary agent from Book Ends, recently posted an entry on her blog that gets me at the heart of my issue: What’s more frustrating? A story with a weak plot but is well written or a story with an amazing plot but has weak writing?

For the new book I feel as though I have a great concept. I have gotten the new Chapter One down on the page. I think I even have a decent hook. But once I get the quick particulars out of the way then catapult the heroine into her new world, I am just not sure what to do with her. I feel weak when it comes to the actual conception of the story, and I am scrambling to get my hands on any information that will help me clear this frustrating hurdle.

The Tameri Guide for Writers web site has an excellent web page on Plot and Story, which I highly recommend as a place to start.

Another helpful resource I’ve delved into is Robert McKee’s popular book, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting. This book has given me a great chance to sit back, catch my breath, and really think about what story means to me.

In my haste to self-medicate, I also took and am finishing up a Killer Instinct class on How to Grow a Story Spine being taught by the talented writer and teacher, Sylvie Kurtz. Sylvie presented the individual lessons in a straightforward and succinct way and taught us some great things. But one of the best things I took away from the class was her advice to think about those stories that have really moved me or spoken to me or evoked strong reaction in me then study those stories and break them down into their smallest parts.

So over the next few weeks, I look forward to curling up with some of my favorite stories and most memorable characters, and revisit them to discover what it was about them that made them stay with me long after I left their worlds.

My hope is that in doing so, I will understand and have these important elements ingrained in my writing repertoire. With practice, my some-day goal is offer that stay-with-you kind of story that makes and remains on your keeper shelves – to create something that will endure.

This week, my wish is to take all those pieces and find a way to put them back together again . . . and in a way that gives me satisfaction – which, for me, would result in a very happy ending, indeed!

So, go write! It’s what Humpty Dumpty would have wanted. Really.

-Jessica

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