on writing

Story 101, Ep. IV: Events, Embryos, Essentials

The original source of these ideas remains sketchy in my memories; perhaps this bit was a talk on divine artistry by Tim Keller. But if your story holds most or all of these elements, I could almost guarantee it automatically rocks. These are the seeds of existence–and the stuff that addicts us to your narrative world.

  • a birth: an actual birth, a beginning of a dream, a newness
  • a death: a real death of someone we love or someone we have just met or someone who affects someone we love—because life is fragile, is it not? And ends are as vast in meaning as beginnings.
  • a marriage: a great love, a union against all odds, the meeting of souls in an otherwise chaotic realm that is Real Life–because be it, as it is, fraught with meaning, it is also chaotic, and love is a time-space-and-spirit miracle.
  • a redemption*: a making of peace, a cycle back to the beginning of the events and a renewing of what was once new and went wrong, a happy ending (*note: a tragedy will never come round to this, but we sit, reading, waiting, wishing for what could have been, and in this way, redemption is alluded to. I think of Nick’s green light at the end of Gatsby: a longing for a dream that never delivered.)

These are like the meat-and-potatoes of your story. If you avoid these in the name of “not getting too heavy,” you lose what may be called “Stakes.” What are the consequences of Ivy not retrieving that medicine in time? Oh gosh darn it, she gets a big headache is not nearly as compelling as then her true love dies. 

Modern and postmodern tales toy with these elements in order to pose questions against our narrative expectations. I recall my sister’s fascination with Hitchhiker’s Guide and the detritus of events that made her laugh (or cry) in their brutal nonsensicality. But the stories that inspire and incline earth-folk to greatness–at least, so I would argue–echo the Monomyth structure and involve each of these elements, literally or metaphorically.

On another note, I’ve also been toying with Dan Harmon’s Plot Embryo method (see Rachael Stephen’s practical application of it here and Harmon’s succinct explanation here)—and loving it.

Keep your eyes open for Episode V (concerning bullets 6. and 7.)!

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Design concepts for the brand. Brainstorm with your team on how you want to develop your brand visually. This is a crucial step in getting your brand noticed!

 

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on writing

Story 101, Ep. I: Bullets from an Unknown Source

One night while brainstorming, I rediscovered some old notes on my phone.

There were piece-y observations from my people-watching days: an old pilot whose laugh came in chopped “ha ha ha”s that, if it weren’t so real, would sound fake; a white man speaking fluent Spanish with his Latina girlfriend and refusing to look at the other Anglos, though I could hear him translating their sale pitches under his breath; a wraith thin girl with symmetrical lip piercings, whispering hush hush to the puppy laying in complete silence in her arms…

There were a few sermon notes and a series of the briefest seventh sense type sensations. You know, those odd psychosomatic feelings that happen in everyday life and you know you have to record it, or you won’t get just the right words next time it happens to your created humans.

Then there was the untitled note with bullet points and ideas from who-knows-where.

It read–

“Storytelling:

  1. there is always a problem

  2. begin new strings where old have ended

  3. main characters are always learning new things, about each other, about themselves

  4. HUMANS, not characters

  5. birth, death, marriage, redemption

  6. ‘you can charm the critics and have nothing to eat'”

  7. who is this for?

I have the vaguest suspicion that these thoughts sprang from an interview with Stephanie Meyer, the author of Twilight, that I read in some writing forum or other. And while Ms. Meyer has been brutalized in the literary world for her writing skills (or, some argue, lack thereof), I will defend her in the case of storytelling. Which is of course what we’re talking about. She made her millions because she could tell a story that kept you reading. And that’s more than can be said for a number of writers I’ve read.

Keep your eyes peels for Episode II (concerning bullets 1., 2., and 3.)!

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Design concepts for the brand. Brainstorm with your team on how you want to develop your brand visually. This is a crucial step in getting your brand noticed!

 

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on writing

on story: an introduction to Story 101

As a matter of fact, non-stories annoy me.

Perhaps it was Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, but–I’m blanking–whatever other culprits there were (some Sundance person or other starts to grate in memoriam), the writing world got artsy about the concept of storytelling. But in the brouhaha of feel-good artistry, the more concrete concepts behind “What Makes a Story a Good Story” were abandoned. It’s not popular to be black-and-white these days.

The problem with artsy-fartsiness isn’t the amount of white people involved. Rather, it’s the sphere of the writing world that well-to-do hipsterdom and postmodern-storytelling represents, a fancy cover on the book that is The Lack of Story. It’s intellectual to tell non-stories because life doesn’t have a meaning. Because we wake up and we make coffee and we go about our days trying to make enough money (or steal it) to accomplish the something-more-that-we-want, but always always Real Life thwarts it for all but the lucky point two percent and then we die.

I disagree with the former statements because I believe in many things, God for one and that life has a meaning, and also—stories. As soon as the answer is that we have no answer, we’ve set a limit on possibility, and Possibility is meant to be endless.

I love my dog. She makes you feel like the most wonderful person as soon as you come home from anywhere, even the two second walk to the mailbox. But this silky-eared critter doesn’t sit with a pen in hand, puzzling over the twist in a suspense novel–or wonder if she has the right to write a human character, as she’s never had such experiences. She lives to love without condition and be petted every waking moment, and as the vet told us today, that’s her job.

But as a race, unlike our animal coinhabitants, we have the unique tendency to deal with our earthy mediums in rather pointless ways. We do puzzle over plotholes and villains we’ve botched. We fresco ceilings and carve immense marble statues, and while we don’t have to do these things for our living functions of respirating and surviving to carry on, we do it because we want to. Because sometimes we feel we must to be truly living.

“We are infinite” (Chbosky), and within us is the infinite: our stories. Stories compel. Stories move. Stories shape. Stories don’t muggle about in actionless introspection unless your character is then moved to do something and fight and perhaps, at long last, achieve a happy ending. Because–as such endings lie within the realm of endless possibilities–those happen too.

Keep an eye out for Episode I — coming soon!

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Design concepts for the brand. Brainstorm with your team on how you want to develop your brand visually. This is a crucial step in getting your brand noticed!

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on writing

tidbits for tuesday

In preparation for National Novel Writing Month, I’ve begun collecting writing inspiration. May I share mine with you?

“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”

~ Karim Seddiki

“…[here] is the way you are to feel when you are writing—happy, truthful and free, with that wonderful contented absorption of a child stringing beads in kindergarten. With complete self-trust. Because you are a human being, all you have to do is get out truthfully what is in you and it will be interesting, it will be good.”

~ Brenda Ueland, “If You Want to Write”

“…put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”

~ Stephen King, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”

“Ease in writing comes from flexibility and trust in yourself, which comes from learning to tolerate a certain amount of chaos.”

~ Karin Mack and Eric Skjei, “Overcoming Writing Blocks”

“Work hard in silence. Let success be your noise.”

~ Frank Ocean

“If you want to be a writer, write. Write and write and write. If you stop, start again. Save everything that you write. If you feel blocked, write through it until you feel your creative juices flowing again. Write. Writing is what make a writer, nothing more and nothing less.”

~Anne Rice

Happy writing!

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life, on writing

the settling

I know better than to tap on glass to make whatever creature move, but as I looked out the window this morning and saw the massive striped orb weaver shimmying up and down its glittering web, I wanted nothing better than to see what sort of underbelly it had, what color, and if it was poisonous. It’s been like that lately. A small obsession with all the things I haven’t experienced in two years, and all making me a little impolite, even childish. The yard is full of unswept leaves. They crackle underfoot, a common enough occurrence when I lived here, but so unlike the bendy green debris of my old home. Every once in a while, the wind will blow, sending down a burst of leafy yellow confetti, and I itch for cooler days.

It’s been a little over two months since I’ve been home. People ask me about Thailand, about cultural things I miss or don’t, and I’ve grown tired of answering them with the same sort of impatience that I turn toward myself: when will it feel normal again? In that vein of trying, just trying, to make sense of it, I sit down to my books and old notes and look for words. (When else will I remember it all as vividly as I do now?) But when the person inside you seems absent, standing back watching as if to see if things really will stop changing, it’s hard to make truthful statements about anything. I’m reading a really good book right now, If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, and it’s only served to affirm my own quest these last years: make it real. Make it unpretentious. Make it yours. (Read it if you haven’t. I found it, a castaway treasure, at Goodwill.)

And perhaps it’s given me the peace to tell you, I exist currently in the moment, waiting for it all to settle. There are still many more autumn leaves yet to fall.

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