Writing The Story Generating Ideas and Getting them on Paper Instructor: Elisa Black The following PowerPoint presentation is a compilation of two Master Class Webinars.
Life “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” --John Lennon “Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory.” --Susan B. Anthony “Life is made up of snobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.” --O. Henry
“Photos without stories are memories lost.” –Dr. Sharon Murdoch
Exercise 1: Brainstorm • 1. Write down the name of a person. • Write down any words that remind you of that person. • character traits • things that person likes to do • things that person likes or hates • items of clothing that person frequently wears • places that person likes to go • films, book titles or T.V. shows that person likes • activities that person likes to do • nicknames that person has • things that person says
The text on this page is simply a result of writing down the brainstorming results.
Converting Your Brainstorm Into Story The memories recorded on this page were sparked by an item on the brainstorming list. “What does David love?” Answer: Bears
Exercise 2: Email Surveys Have you ever gotten one of these surveys in your email? 1. LAST MOVIE YOU SAW IN A THEATER? 2. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW? 3. FAVORITE BOARD GAME? 4. FAVORITE MAGAZINE? 5. FAVORITE SMELLS? 6. COMFORT FOODS? 7. FAVORITE SOUNDS? 8. WORST FEELING IN THE WORLD? 9.FIRST THING YOU THINK WHEN YOU WAKE UP? 10. FAVORITE FAST FOOD PLACE? 11. FUTURE CHILD’S NAME? 12. “IF I HAD A LOT OF MONEY, I WOULD… 13. DO YOU DRIVE FAST? 14. DO YOU SLEEP WITH A STUFFED ANIMAL? 15. STORMS—COOL OR SCARY?
Exercise 2: Email Surveys 1. LAST MOVIE YOU SAW IN A THEATER?“Enchanted” it was hilarious! Loved the “Happy Little Working Song”2. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW?Just finished reading “Death of a Peer” by Ngiao Marsh. I love British mysteries. 3. FAVORITE BOARD GAME?Don’t really have one. Although I kick butt on Star Wars Trivial Pursuit4. FAVORITE MAGAZINE?In Style (Yes, I’m shallow, I like pretty pictures of pretty people)5. FAVORITE SMELLS?leaky swamp coolers. I’m not kidding. Reminds me of when I was a kid.6. COMFORT FOODS?cookies and/or pizza7. FAVORITE SOUNDS?The sound of the ocean, and the cello 8. WORST FEELING IN THE WORLD?having someone mad at you 9. FIRST THING YOU THINK WHEN YOU WAKE UP? There is no coherent thought, only the pain of not being asleep.10. FAVORITE FAST FOOD PLACE?Scholtzky’s11. FUTURE CHILD'S NAME?Noah and Elizabeth12. "IF I HAD A LOT OF MONEY, I WOULD... Travel!13. DO YOU DRIVE FAST?Yes14. DO YOU SLEEP WITH A STUFFED ANIMAL?No15. STORMS-COOL OR SCARY?Very, very cool. Why won’t someone watch Psycho with me when it’s raining? Cowards!16. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAR?I bought Amy Chamberlain’s baby blue 1990 Geo Prizm. Still my favorite car.17. FAVORITE DRINK?Diet Coke18. DO YOU EAT THE STEMS ON BROCCOLI?Good heavens no!19. IF YOU COULD DYE YOUR HAIR ANY COLOR, WHAT WOULD YOU CHOOSE?Blonde or red, I’ve done both.20. HOW MANY DIFFERENT CITIES/TOWNS HAVE YOU LIVED IN?Eleven21. GLASS HALF EMPTY OR FULL?It’s either overflowing or lip-crackingly dry. I’m a gal of extremes.22. WHAT IS UNDER YOUR BED?Clothes I can’t fit into anymore. (It’s really crowded under there).23. TOILET PAPER/PAPER TOWEL-OVER OR UNDER?Does it matter?24. EARLY BIRD OR NIGHT OWL?Night owl25. FAVORITE PLACE TO RELAX?On the couch in front of the TV
This page in a “Friends” book was created with the answers from an email survey.
Interviewing Others for a Life Story “Tell me your life’s story!” How do people answer that question? “What happened?” If it happened a long time ago, chances are, the answer to this question is going to be a dry, boring recitation of facts. We have to get over our obsession with plot. Start by describing the place and the people in the story. Instead of asking, “what did you do last summer?” ask, “what did you smell last summer?” or “Who did you meet last summer?”
Exercise 3: Story Elements—Place • 1. Start with an important place. • a house • a school • a favorite store • a friend’s house • the library • the swimming pool • a car • the dentist or doctor • the barber • 2. Next, think of a person in connection with that place.
Exercise 4: Story Elements—Time • 1. Start with a time • the 80’s • my fifth grade year • when I was seven… • 2. Now, think of a place associated with that time. • 3. Now, think of a person associated with that time. • 4. Let the memories flow about that person, that place and that time. • 5. Jot down notes—just words or phrases—about those memories.
Exercise 4: Example 1980’s—high school—1984-88—Timpview High School Carol, Jenny—high school orchestra; Jake—first chair, second violin—ZZ Top costume at school dance—red hair—being picked to compete at Regionals—honored, afraid—played first solo and then went in restroom and cried—still got good score—not good at soloing in public High school hallway—bright orange lockers—slamming of metal doors, lots of chatter, running feet, someone interrupted Geometry class to say the space shuttle had exploded, went to Ms. McKay’s history class, someone brought in a TV, we all watched news coverage of the Challenger explosion, a teacher was on board, didn’t know how to feel, sad, shocked
Story writing Tips: Help your readers experience the action by showing them what happened rather than telling them. Let the action play out for your readers by using direct quotes from your characters when you can. Let the characters reveal themselves through their own words. You can also show a person’s feelings by describing what they did. Example: “She was devastated by the news.” “After she hung up the phone, she stalked back and forth across the room, making jerky movements with her hands. She would pick up random objects, clutch them tightly, and then drop them again, as if she’d forgotten she was holding them. Suddenly she stopped in the middle of the room, covered her face with her hands and burst into tears.”
Story Structure • Place: talk about several normal things that happened there. • Example: the 2nd grade • What happened on a standard day? • What were some common occurrences in a regular day? • 2. Contrast/Action: “The Day Things Turned Upside Down.” Once you’ve established your setting, you’re ready for the contrast. • 3. Ending: what did you learn as a result of the occurrences? • Tips: • Remember your five senses: sight, smell, sound, touch, taste • Go for the quote when you can.
Remember, when you tell a story, you’re painting a picture for your audience. You want them to see the story unfold in their mind. PROBLEM The Four P’s combine to create a picture in your reader’s mind. Picture (Story) PLACE PEOPLE PROGRESS
How do you capture the random, humorous, and bizarre (or common place) moments that really make up your life?
Blogs Online blogs are a great example of people recording the daily doings that make up their lives. Remember, we reveal ourselves when we write, not just through our words, but through the details we choose to include and through language and personal style. Two great ones www.thepioneerwoman.com http://muskadillo-dreaming.blogspot.com
Exercise 1: Generate a list of common place incidents that happen in your life or household. • Getting ready and going to work/school? • Household tasks? • Favorite ways to relax • Places you like to go • Classes or lessons you take • Care of children or other person • What you do for a living—a typical day at work • Now think of a time that something went wrong, or something altered the course of your usual practice.
Example 1: A day in the life of a mother includes getting children to do things they don’t want to do, like take their medicine. (This was originally a blog post.)
Example 2: a chore as simple as cleaning the house becomes a battle with the forces of evil. (Originally posted on a blog.)
What characteristics do your friends attribute to you? What personal quirks do they tease you about? Take a moment and make a list. (About yourself or someone else)
How do you defy convention? Did your mother ever say “well, if all your friends jumped off a cliff would you?” Um, me? Yes, I would, actually. I’d want to know what they knew that I didn’t. I’ve always been the kind of person that will go with the general consensus, always. I’ve recently had an opportunity to apply for an open position in HR…
Exercise 2: pick a common saying, and use it as a starting point to explain how you defy convention. “A rolling stone gathers no moss…” “Let sleeping dogs lie...” “Throws like a girl…” “Elvis has left the building…” “The best thing since sliced bread.” “Don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill.” “I hope someday you have kids just like you.” “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
Exercise 3: Compare and contrast Compare yourself as child and an adult. What personality traits have you kept throughout your life? What is something that you disliked as a child, but now really enjoy as an adult? What physical characteristics have you retained? How do you appear differently? How are you like your parents? (I know, this can be a hard one.) What advice would your 10 year-old self have given your adult self? What advice do you wish you could give your 10 year-old self?
“A story provides a structure for our perceptions; only through stories do facts assume any meaning whatsoever. This is why children everywhere ask, as soon as they have the command of language to do so, ‘Where did I come from?’ and ‘What will happen when I die?’ They require a story to give meaning to their existence. Without air, our cells die. Without a story, our selves die.” –Neil Postman