The Role of the Storyteller

I watch Harry’s Law, partly because the character Harriett (Harry) Corn is not young and whip thin. She’s a criminal defense lawyer, who also owns the shoe store on the street level of her building, and is feisty as all get out. Sure, the story lines often stray from reality—no, on second thought, they’re probably as real as the scripted shows disguised as reality TV.

Anyway, I’m particularly glad I watched this week. One of the two cases in the episode concerned a British man under threat of extradition for a crime he’d committed twenty years earlier. In the years since, he’d moved to Cincinnati and bought a tea shop in a depressed neighborhood where he entertained his customers with tall tales.

Many of these customers came to court and testified in the shop owner’s behalf, saying how much he’d enriched their lives with his stories. In a moving defense to the judge, one of Harry’s associates illustrated how the man provided a humanitarian service to his community. He pointed out that the shop owner had taken his customers to places they’d never be able to go, given them adventures they’d never experience, made them laugh and given them hope.

I took that to heart. Since I published The Brevity of Roses, a  few people  have insinuated the book was beneath them, it was only a love story, fiction for the masses. Yeah. It’s fiction for real people. I won’t apologize for that. I’m real people. I won’t apologize for that either. I’m proud that I told my story to so many who let me know they liked it—loved it, even—and I’m happy I could transport them out of their life and into my imaginary world for a few hours.

So, I raise my cup to all the storytellers who’ve enriched my life. How small it would be without them. Won’t you join me?

Ray Bradbury wrote this just for me!

If you’re a writer, I’m sure you’ve heard the terms plotter and pantser. For the non-writers: those terms refer to opposites in how much a writer prepares before he begins a work. Pantser comes from an aviation saying, “Fly by the seat of his pants.” meaning to fly on instinct alone, without instruments. (Finally looked that up.)

If you’re a writer, I’m sure you’ve heard the terms plotter and pantser. For the non-writers: those terms refer to opposites in how much a writer prepares before he begins a work. Pantser comes from an aviation saying, “Fly by the seat of his pants.” meaning to fly on instinct alone, without instruments. (Finally looked that up.)

I’ve confessed to being a pantser, but the truth is, often my method is more like ultimate pantsing. I take the bare bones of a story idea and explore it—not before I write, but as I write. At first, I didn’t realize there was any other way to write. Then I decided to become a SERIOUS writer and bought book after book promising to teach me how to work like a real writer. Uh-oh.

I learned many useful things from these books, but some of the advice stymied my Muse. I hadn’t pre-written outlines, synopses, plot points charts, etc. for my many stories and one novel. And because I hadn’t followed those rules, I feared none of my work could possibly be any good. My hope for publication faded.

Then, a little over three years ago, I put my fingers to keyboard to elaborate on a dream I’d had and write it as a story. But the characters kept talking to me and the story grew. My dream turned into a novel. Some new writer friends thought it was a good novel. But I doubted their judgment because, again, I’d written mostly on instinct. In fact, most of the time, it felt as though I was only taking dictation. So how could it be good?

I’ve mentioned in a few recent posts that I was reading Ray Bradbury’s collection of essays on writing, Zen in the Art of Writing. I finally reached the last chapter and read something that, for me, surpassed all the bon mots I’d selected before. Mr. Bradbury didn’t know it, but he wrote the following part just for me:

The time will come when your characters will write your stories for you, when your emotions, free of literary cant and commercial bias, will blast the page and tell the truth.

Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through. That is all Plot ever should be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal. It cannot be mechanical. It can only be dynamic.

So, stand aside, forget targets, let the characters, your fingers, body, blood, and heart do.

Sha-zam! A celebrated writer had validated my method. It may not be every writer’s way, but it’s right for me. I no longer have to doubt the value of a story just because it seemed to write itself. Of course, not everything I write will work, but if it fails, it won’t be because I flew without instruments. It will be because I didn’t “stand aside” enough to let my “fingers, body, blood, and heart do”.

What say ye? Does Bradbury’s advice make your heart sing or shudder?


Photo credits: Anne Burgess – Creative Commons License

A story! A story? A tale of fear!

All my sources tell me that, as a new indie author, I need to publish more work soon. Writing a novel is not quick work for me. I have a story that might run novella length—might. I haven’t written it yet, of course. Another option is a short story collection.

Until the last couple of years, I’ve never been a big short story reader. I’ve written some, but they were for my own eyes. But, in the last year, I’ve greatly increased the number of short stories I read. I also read articles on how to write short fiction. I’m still not sure I get it.

I’m also not sure why I don’t get it. It’s almost as though I have a mental block. I think I write a beginning, middle, and end, but it doesn’t seem like a story to me. Is it a vignette? Is that a story?

Does a story require a moral? A lesson? A reason to exist? Am I over-thinking this? Probably. I fear I can’t write short stories. Then again, I fear I can’t write anything. FEAR.

I’d like to say I bravely take up my pen keyboard and wield it like a sword, but that would be a lie. The truth is I sit here quivering. I sit here wishing, hoping, praying that the words I’m typing make sense … have a purpose … tell a story.

That’s what I’m busy with nowadays. And I thank Christ Craig for her recent post reminding me that I have to face that fear or I’ll never know if I’ve written a story at all.

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How comfortable are you in your fictional world?

When we write fiction, creating the world in which our story takes place is in our hands. I enjoyed writing The Brevity of Roses because I loved all three main characters—and had a good time with a couple of secondary ones too. I also loved “living” in the primary settings—a beautiful Tudor-style mansion with gorgeous gardens and a cottage by the sea. Those things made up for the painful scenes I had to write.

Now, I have to decide which of three books I’m going to work on next. I’ve changed my mind several times while I’ve been busy getting my last novel ready for publication. Soon, it will be time to start serious work and I still don’t know which story to go with.

One would be rather pleasant to write … well, no suicidal characters, or tragic deaths, and just one abuse-scarred psyche to deal with. The other two are much darker—but for different reasons. Neither would be particularly pleasant to write, but I’m wondering if they might be more satisfying to have written.

For any of the three stories I have to choose from, the book world will be more meat and potatoes and less dessert than Brevity’s world. But maybe that will help me develop more writing muscle. So which to choose? Eeeny, meeny, miney, mo …

Your turn: How often does your writing create a comfortable story world? Do you ever deliberately create a world that forces you to explore people, places, and ideas outside your comfort zone? Do you like to combine the two and set a challenging story in a pleasant or familiar world?

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It’s a marvel and it’s marvelous!

Sometimes, I look back at the path that brought me to the decision to publish The Brevity of Roses and marvel. It’s almost as if an outside force took me over. If you had asked me three years ago would I be on the cusp of bona fide authorship, I would have flashed you my sharpest Are-you-crazy? look.

Sure, I made up stories. I’d done that forever. And, in the last twelve years, some of them even birthed into Word files. And sure, I had dreamed about being a novelist—nearly every time I read a book. One completed novel even nestled among those files. But those were just for me.

Then, I had a dream. It was brief and lovely, but it posed a question I wanted to explore. I couldn’t quit thinking about it. I told a friend, who said it would make a good story. So, I embellished and wrote it as a short story. Not satisfied, I expanded it to a novella. And then, I kept writing.

I could have left it safe in its own little Word folder, my second completed novel, but I didn’t. There was something different about this one. I didn’t want to keep it to myself. I thought the story might be one that others would enjoy reading, so I kept working on it. Working, and working, and WORKING.

Yesterday, I worked on formatting the print version. It was a thrill to view the title page and other front matter, and then, on what looks like actual book pages—My Story. I’ve called this a novel for two and a half years, but that was never real to me until now—and it will be even more real soon.

A novel—my novel—is a marvelous thing!


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