The 2014 yeah write summer series continues! Check out Christine’s weekly kickoff post to find everything you need to know about the guidelines, format, and lounges for our third summer series. You’ll find the grid and posting guidelines at the bottom of this post.
Don’t forget to drop by the yeah write coffeehouse and introduce yourself. I picked up the most awesome pour-over iced coffee last week and it was super refreshing. It’s open 24-7 and it’s the place to go for casual small talk, introductions, and other writing-related conversations.
Our weekly summer series writing topics continue and this week and it’s all about finding the story.
Storytelling: Finding the story.
On the yeah write challenge grid, we’re looking for creative nonfiction stories told in about 600 words. Today I’m going to talk about what story isn’t.
Why start with what’s not story? Because once you eliminate all the stuff you could possibly write about that doesn’t qualify as story, you’ll be in a much better position to craft something that is. You need to chisel away at the marble to reveal the Pietà within.
Last week, Suzanne bestowed upon you, like a gift, the vital component of story – literary conflict. I like to call it “the thing that makes your reader give a shit.” Take away the conflict? You’ve lost your story. Without that central tension moving your narrative from Point A to Point B, what you’re usually left with is a list of facts, an opinion, a bunch of free-floating emotions, or some horrifying combination of the three.
And that’s what story isn’t.
1. Story is not a list of facts.
That’s a history term paper called “The First Battle of Bull Run: Tussle on the Shenandoah.” Or a boring PowerPoint presentation with lots and lots of bullet points. The opposite of interesting.
“But Cindy!” you say, “I would never post a term paper or a PowerPoint on my blog!” Well, chronologies fit in this category too. A chronology can trick you into thinking it’s a story because events occur, but there’s no conflict. You’re just reciting things that happened and then other things that happened next. For your reader, it’s the equivalent of listening to someone talk about all the errands they ran on Tuesday. Or worse, watching their vacation slides. Like Gertrude Stein’s Oakland, there’s no there there.
2. Story is not an opinion.
“This happened and I was angry” is NOT a story. That’s a rant. Who wants to be trapped listening to some dude complain about the lack of parking downtown? It’s the “Obama was born in Kenya” Facebook comment war that you can’t hide.
What if you told a story about how the lack of parking affects real people? Maybe you were on your way to get your work visa renewed and the appointment was for a 15 minute window and even though you left an hour early, you missed it because there was no effing parking downtown and now you have to start over and get everything apostilled again. That’s an opinion piece about parking that might change minds.
3. Story is not an emotion.
Most emotion-based blog posts have a diary-like feel. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with journaling. The process can be healing and cathartic and may spark your creativity. But if your Artist’s Way morning pages are all about the feels, you’ve got no story.
Say you love gardening. If your post is about how gardening makes you feel really peaceful, you only have an emotion. What I’m really interested in? Stories that show me why you love gardening. Was the need to tend your garden the catalyst that got you outside when you were in the depths of depression? That’s your story.
Help us Cindy! Help us find the story!
I need to get a broom, because there’s a lot of marble dust on the floor now. But your sculpture is by no means finished. Now you need to whip your story into shape. Meet me here Thursday and we’ll dish about narrative structure.
This week’s optional prompt is: What’s the frequency, Kenneth?
Go ahead and answer that question in a gargleblaster, incorporate it in your longer fiction, or use it as inspiration for your nonfiction. You can also feel free to ignore it entirely if you’ve already got a great idea!
Below you’ll find the badge for the summer supergrid #171. Copy the code under the badge and paste it into the html or text view of your blog editor. Having trouble? Contact email@example.com for tech support.
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