Thursday, February 21, 2008

Playing with Story

Playing with Story. The process of creating stories fascinates me -- not that I am a master (yet.)

If you're a writer, you should play around with the story process -- toss it around in your mind -- notice how a seven year old tells the story of how she got stung by a bee. As you're sitting in a Taco Bell (or some other public place) listen to stories around you. Why do some interenet email stories get forwarded to a million people and some are flops?

What makes a story work? What makes one unforgetable. It's something every writer must know to be a good communicator. Think about it... you probably remember some story someone told you 10, 15 or 20 years ago, and you can tell it with some accuracy. There are other stories you heard yesterday you can hardly recall. What's the difference? What made one memorable and one forgetable?

I saw someone changing a tire recently and thought -- how is writing like changing a tire? Let's play around with that thought...

You're driving down a country road. It’s a normal day. You're dealing with your everyday phobias and anxieties. You wish things were better or different, but there's not so much to do anything about it.

Compare that to: It’s a dusty day in Kansas. A young girl has the normal teenage angst about life – its boring. There must be something more to life. But there is no escape from the Kansas farm.

Suddenly you come to a rough spot in the road. You drive over a big pothole and your back wheel goes ker-thump as it hits the hole hard. You hear a loud pop that rattles your car and causes you to lose control. You panic and swerve into the oncoming traffic.

Compare that to: The Kansas weather starts kicking up. The wind is blowing – harder and harder. The sky turns a yucky green and in the distance the funnel of a tornado can be seen. It gets larger and larger – its coming your way! Everyone scrambles for the storm shelter. Where is the dog, Toto? The girl rushes back into the house to get the dog then the tornado hits. She’s thrown this way and that. It looks bad for her.

That’s part one – some call it the inciting incident or hook – it’s the thing that gets the story rolling. Or in the case of a flat tire, stops the car in its track. Often, that’s the easiest part of the story.

Now what do you do?

Your pleasant drive was interrupted. You get out of the car and see that you have a flat. You’re in the middle of nowhere and you see wolves peeking at you from nearby bushes. You’ve got to solve this problem or you’re the main course for dinner tonight. You get out the jack and put it under the car. If its like one of the old fashioned jacks it has a long handle that you push down to ratchet up the jack.

With each push down on the handle, the car inches up. That’s the middle of your story. It's a series of events that are like that handle on the jack. The emotions, hopes, and expectations go up and down with each push of the jack handle. As each scene goes from hope (up) to crisis (down) the jack (tension) inches up. Up and down each scene goes – giving hope, taking it away. Giving hope, taking it away.

All the time the tension is mounting.

Compare to: Dorothy is in Oz. Her life in Kansas is interrupted. She’s presented with a way to solve the problem – go to see the Wizard. Like the jacking up of the car, she must go step by step (with the help of friends) but on her journey she experiences a series of hope and failures. Each up and down of hope and failure seems to make things worse. Tension mounts with each little scene. Will she ever be able to get to her goal?

Up and down the jack goes as the car rises. The wolves are licking their chops. Finally, the tire comes off of the pavement and you can now put on the spare. But at the last minute you can’t get a lug nut to loosen. The wolves start inching toward you. You almost panic and run – but then they will surely attack. You remember that you have some WD-40 in the trunk – you get it and spray the lug nut like crazy. Then, using all your strength you jump up onto the lug wrench and the nut loosens. Success! You take off the old wheel and put on the spare. With the flick of a knob the jack descends much faster than it went up. You throw the jack into the trunk as the wolves descend, but you jump into the car and you’re protected.

The wolves must get dinner someplace else and you continue on your journey. You were not eaten by the wolves; but perhaps you are a wiser driver now and will watch out for potholes.

Compare to: Finally, the Dorothy makes it to her goal – to get the Wizard to send her home. But as he prepares to take her home, the balloon is launched prematurely and it seems all hope for her is lost. Then the good witch gives her an alternate way to get home – using the ruby slippers. She returns to Kansas. Nothing much has changed there, but Dorothy is wiser and knows more about life and love than she ever did before.

Here's how I look at a story -- the beginning is a sudden interruption of the norm, the middle is a ratcheting up of tension to a point where it looks as if all hope is lost and the solution comes quickly and wraps up the story.

Next time you’re fashioning a story – think about changing a tire. It might help put all of the pieces are in place to make your adventure more exciting and memorable.


Mike said...

Thanks, O Bald One. I try to write a story every day, but I was feeling kind of flat.

You're bookmarked!


Bald Writer said...


Thanks for the comment. Let me know how your story writing comes along. I was just reading a little book by CS Lewis called "On Story" -- an interesting perspective...maybe I'll blog on it soon.