The Importance of Story

Do you remember your mother or grandmother reading stories to you when you were small? When my son and grandsons were little I read to them before bed. As they grew I encouraged them to “read” their favorite stories to me. Since we read Dr. Suess and Paddington Bear over and over again, they knew what happened on every page and could almost recite the words before they could read.

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There are quotes from books or films (stories) that stick in our minds and never go away. They speak to us. They make us laugh or cry or think. “Everything looks better with pearls,” is one of my faves. I don’t wear pearls but I remember watching Audrey Hepburn and Doris Day in films and they always had pearls on and looked beautiful and confident.

These days superheroes are very popular, everyone wants to be a hero, save the day, have superpowers. Imagine it? Of course, you can, we all can. Stories about ordinary people who find out they have extraordinary gifts inspire us to be greater.

Everyone has stories in them. Our lives are vignettes, scenes that play out every day. Sometimes they are boring, but they can just as easily be exciting, frightening, or romantic. Share your stories. If you don’t want to write them down, speak them to others, take photographs that tell a story, paint a picture, write/sing a song. We all love a good story.friends_n_rain

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Summer colds & the magic of storytelling

mature_womanI hate summer colds. When it’s raining and icy outside I anticipate I’ll get the flu or a virus, but not when it’s hot out. I don’t know why. This past weekend my hubby and I spent it sleeping, reading, eating soup, and binge watching House of Cards (Netflix). We saw a couple other great movies on HBO, too.

The book I just finished was one of JD Robb’s Death mysteries and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There’s something amazing about an author who can write so many stories about the same characters and keep bringing something new and inventive into the story. Certainly, there are always new characters and murder situations, but the main characters keep evolving and that makes the story even better. It’s set in the not so distant future, say forty years from now and much of life is the same. But getting real coffee and real meat is a challenge and only reserved for the wealthy. Pepsi comes in a tube. And while cars can elevate and fly, they don’t often so we don’t have to worry about suspending disbelief – it could happen.

Do you ever wonder why movies and television shows have exploded and there are so many channels to choose from? (Money for one, but the other is – storytelling keeps us going.) Since many channels show reruns I don’t see how they all survive, but they do, and not everyone has access to all the same stations. What makes these forms of entertainment so popular is the story. We’re captured by the actors, the scenes, the special effects, the music, the drama/comedy/adventure. We are transported into that story, maybe even flying through space on the starship Enterprise as the Romulans attack. I recently saw “Brooklyn” and I was transported to Ireland and then New York City (Brooklyn) during the 1950’s. The cars, the clothes, the music, the hairstyles, the language (love Irish accents) let me be there while I watched the story unfold.

Isn’t that the same thing we want when we read a book? We readers want to slip between the pages, into the time and place, along with the hero and antagonist, so we can experience this new world we’re reading about. I recently read “The Citadel” by Kate Mosse and I have to tell you – I wanted to be in France, but NOT during the 1940’s. The German occupation of France was horrific. Kate Mosse made the time and place come to life.

We authors want our stories to draw readers in and hold them there until the end. When it happens, it’s magical. When the moving pictures in your head get transferred accurately on the page and into the reader’s imagination – we soar with joy. We take the reader along with us and hope their experience is satisfying. Not every story will resonate with every person – but when it does – it is true magic.  One of my readers sent me a message saying she had seen my character, “Annabelle” on the street in town.  Feisty Family Values and particularly Annabelle had come to life for her. That’s what I call MAGIC. Another reader wrote me that she hated Regina in the first book but really liked her in the second. She said she was glad she wasn’t such a bitch anymore. It made me laugh and gave me a sense of pride as well. The character of Regina came to life for her.

I hope none of you out there get summer colds, but if you do – drink lots of fluids, sleep lots, read and get well soon.

Who tells the story?

kids_sprinklerThe art of perspective, or who tells the story, is vital to a story well told. What does that mean? Usually, the best person to be the main point of view character is the one who changes the most or is most impacted by the events you are portraying. I’m not talking about “I” telling the story (this is POV and the HOW), it can be first person, but it can also be third person (he or she), or the all seeing god-view. I personally like third person, because, “I” can only know what “I” know and not what is going on in any other character’s head. The experience portrayed in this photo could easily be told by one of the children, but also by the mother who witnesses their play. She would no doubt have a similar experience to share from her childhood and be able to relate it using all senses. My point here is that POV and the teller are linked.collage_heart

In romance, the story is about the two lovers (to be or not to be). There can be lots of interesting secondary characters, but they are not the most important to the story – it’s the couple finding their way to each other. So, even if the maid can tell the story, the story is about how the lovers get together, not how she feels about the job or the price of beef. It can be interesting to see an observers view of how a romance transpires, but there is too much distance to the emotions in the story to be satisfying to the reader.

In the story, Driving Miss Daisy, the driver tells us about Miss Daisy and their relationship. He has a very interesting perspective of his charge and is able to share her antics with honesty. Their friendship evolves over the story as her health devolves. We perceive the racial tension in the south, but these two people overcome that barrier. She needs his calm dependability and he needs to be needed. (I confess I saw the film and didn’t read the book, this is how I perceived the story telling.)

glasses_paper_keyboardSo, how does a writer decide who is the best to tell the story? If you aren’t sure, I suggest trying to write it through a couple of different character’s (or POV) and see which flows best. My short story, “The Crossroads” has always been from Sylvia’s POV, but it was in first person first. When I changed it to third person it flowed better. It is “her” story, and no one else could tell it better, but as an author I had to put some distance between us. Being her in the “I” in the story, put me too close to see everything clearly. We decide “who” and “how” the story will be told.

“The Book Thief” interestingly enough was told from the point of view of ‘death’, but it was the young girl’s experience during this time in WWII. As narrator he was able to express the darkness of the time.

What makes the best “teller” in your story? That’s for the author to decide. Experiment. When you’re recounting the story of your toddler in the store shouting, “Mommy, what’s a jock strap?” It’s mommy’s embarrassment and toddler’s antics that make the story. It wouldn’t work if the toddler told how he did this, so the best person to relate it is Mommy or the clerk standing on the ladder witnessing the exchange. friends_n_rain

When I was little my grandmother always told me the way to understand why someone acted a certain way I should, “Listen harder. Walk around in their shoes for a while.” In essence that’s what an author does. We listen to our character and put ourselves in the story in order to relate the feelings, smells, sounds, textures of the experience. If we are lucky, we grow so close to the story that for a little while we become the characters and their story becomes even richer.

Enjoy the journey, my friends.

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Life is not a straight line…

Life is not a straight line. We bounce around and find our way through.

forget me notsIf you follow your “curiosity” it will give you clues. Be aware. Be open. Listen. Trust that every place you go is where you are supposed to be in order to gain experience, wisdom, grace, humility, discipline, faith…

This was especially true in my twenties. But I have to say that even at my current age I must not fall into the pit of focusing so hard on one outcome that I miss opportunities to grow. How about you?

When I’m writing a story and think I already know the ending it’s surprising what can happen along the way. New characters appear. Old characters change. Assumptions made no longer apply. And sometimes the ending morphs as well. Follow the path, wherever it leads you.

I love when I’m reading and the story surprises me. Occasional unpredictability can be inspiring – emotional – even educational. But writer beware of throwing a huge rock in the soup, it will totally change the flavor and splash not only the broth, but the reader right out of the pot.

snoopy happy danceI’m a fan of satisfying endings. Who wants to read about a total loser who never ever wins? Totally depressing. You want readers to feel hope for the characters, satisfaction that the story ended as it should and they didn’t waste their time.

I hate to see a cool character die or an antagonist that can’t be redeemed (even just a little bit). In life, those things happen, so they have to occur in story as well. What is story, but the telling of a life experience (real or imagined)? A path taken that resulted in certain consequences that the reader can relate to, utilize as a lesson learned in their own lives, or imagine and enjoy.  which way signLife is not a straight line…so the story can’t be either.

Enjoy the journey, my friends. I plan to.

 

 

 

HE KNOWS HOW IT FEELS TO WRITE

“You first dreamed of becoming a writer to create a deep connection. You wanted another person to know how you felt. You wanted to change someone’s life.” excerpt from Joe Bunting article on Writing Practice, Medium Daily

He writing wineis so RIGHT. Good books move me on so many levels. I want to write those kinds of books. It is my wish for readers and a dream for me. Thank you, Joe, for putting it so succinctly.

 

Making Characters Memorable

We’ve all met interesting people on our day-to-day lives that come to mind when we’re writing. And while sometimes it is the physical characteristics that capture us, or mannerisms, or the way they speak – they can be the jumping off point for a very interesting character in your book that everyone loves or hates.

Maybe the check out girl at the grocer who constants chews gum and blows bubbles. Irritating. Or perhaps the dentist that hums old show tunes while he works, rather than the Little Shop of Horrors guy. dentist_funny

The check out girl inspired a gum popping receptionist for the doctors office (in my case). There are no humming dentists in my stories yet, but perhaps it will inspire a writer to tell the story of a serial killer that hums or sings while he does his thing.

What I really enjoy is emphasizing unique characteristics and making them memorable to the reader. Regina was a hair flipper. We’ve all known a hair twirler, flipper, or chewer. Right? It’s a very memorable habit. I once had a boss that had sinus problems and he was constantly clearing his throat, every day of the year. It was really annoying. How about the boss whose hair is NEVER out of place. A perfect plastic coated football helmet. OMG. I finally asked mine what kind of hairspray she used so I wouldn’t buy it by mistake, preferring a more care free – messy look. But that’s just me.

ladies_50s_fashionDo you know someone whose clothing, jewelry, shoes and purse match? Not so much anymore, but when I was growing up my mom even had a belt that matched her purse and shoes for many of her outfits. She was “put together”. Now days many of us wear jeans and anything goes with jeans, right? These are the things readers will remember, too, so use them. lady_jeans

You can never tell who will inspire you to write, so be aware and watchful for that memorable character you know or see on the street. They just might inspire you.

Are you inventive?

Inventive
Being inventive, your life is an exquisite work of art. And your mindset is that of a creative genius. You thrive in creativity, love, giving back, and everything else in between. And you make it all seem so simple… and enjoyable. You’re a fiercely fascinating person and a conversation with you is easily worth a thousand movies.

(That’s what one of those funny questionnaires gave me. It does seem rather accurate, too.) collage_heart

How to be a Great Writer

I don’t profess to be a GREAT writer YET, but I’m getting better at it every day. Back in September I read an interview with Stephen King about the 22 lessons he recommends to be a great writer. THANK YOU STEPHEN KING. The article in the Business Insider stimulated my imagination to the point that I wrote the following (it was kind of like a test of what I retained from the content):

G – Grammar is only for understanding

R – Read as much as possible

E – Endeavor to write every day

A – Avoid adverbs, passive voice and run on sentences

T – Tell stories about people

W – Write for yourself and don’t worry about what others think

R – Retreat from the world when you write

I – Imagination can help you create and describe clearly and vividly

T – Temper your writing with only what is necessary, info dribbles not info dumps

E – Edit, edit, edit “Kill your darlings” is what Stephen said, be balanced not egocentric about your writing

R – Resist twenty-dollar words with a dollar-word will do, don’t be pretentious

King inspires me. He writes so well, having been successful for many years. I aspire to that as well. Wish I had a first reader like his wife, Tabitha King (also an author), but I do okay with my critique group. They are a great bunch of writers with vivid imaginations, huge hearts, and good advice.

Enjoy the journey, fellow scribes!

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Storytelling, art for all generations

storytellingHave you ever heard a storyteller? I’ve met several very impressive storytellers in my time. They were dramatic, physical, and so much fun. They brought their stories to life, with props, their voices, and their body movements. Basically, that’s what oral history is all about, and how families, warriors, and religion was shared across generations. Don’t forget, minstrels and troubadours were very popular in the middle ages. Cowboys around the campfires. Scary ghost stories at camp. And parables in the Bible.

Society is so enamored of stories that we have a plethora of ways to enjoy them. Audio books. Films. eBooks. Hardback and paperback books. Television and movies. Photography, music and art. Graphic novels. Stage plays. Even advertising tells us what we should be buying. Stories are EVERYWHERE. It’s how we relate to each other and the world around us.To Kill A Mockingbird

We all have favorite stories and mediums to experience them. I love them all, really. But reading a book is more interactive for me. When I’m watching a film or TV I feel passive – like I’m absorbing the experience, but not sharing in it. When I’m in a good book I really feel like I am there in the room, or outside, and I’m a silent partner in the story. My imagination works overtime!

Some of my favorite authors have a way of putting me in the story: Dorothea Benton Frank, C. Hope Clark, Diana Gabaldon, Stephen King (just to name a few). I smell the salt of the sea or the blood on the body. I’m transported back in time or to a place where monsters live. While films give you the audio and visual experience your imagination is put on hold. They give you the experience, and it’s not the same as taking it away from a book. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies, they make me laugh, cry, and shudder. I do experience the story.

But…it’s not the same as with a book. At least, not for me.dot_frank_cover

Now is an amazing time for storytellers. They have so many lovely ways to share their stories. Publishing is easier than it has ever been with electronic and self publishers on the web.

Do you have a story you want to tell? Tell it.

Do you have a story you particularly love? Share it.

But most of all – ENJOY stories.

Where do your characters come from?

This is one of the questions I’m always asked. “Where do your characters come from?”

It’s not a simple answer either. The character may look like a person seen on the street or in a store. They may have quirks that have been witnessed or created in the imagination. Often I start with a voice or an image. Then I do a character sketch. Sometimes that means I interview the character. Sometimes I just let my imagination run with it and invent their family history and back story. (Married? Divorced? College educated? Well read?)

When asked: “Do you ever write about your family?” The answer is: “NO.”  But, I do use phrases my family members say, especially the funny ones. Accidental eavesdropping in public places can provide choice dialog as well.

There are times when dreams provide ideas and images that can lead to some interesting characters, too. (So, keep a pad and pen by the bed.)

But it doesn’t stop there. The more you write about the character in the story, the clearer they will become in the mind of the author. Their voice and mannerisms will become unique. So, as you write that first draft, don’t worry that you don’t “know” the characters yet. You will. First drafts are for capturing the story, and edits will bring those characters to life. They will become so unique you will clearly see and hear them by the time you reach the end of that first draft. (Hair twirler? Nose picker? Face moles? Birth mark? Hair color?)

Make them physically clear for the reader. Make their voices loud and individual. Give them quirks, including clothing, habits, a job, dreams, fears and desires. Do they wear a special perfume or have body odor? Make it real.