Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

The Why of What We Write

istock_000017878764xsmall

Recently I was given a list of Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. It’s a great list for anyone who writes fiction. Number #14 on the list is not really a rule, it’s a question, and it’s the most valuable question for a writer that I have seen.

#14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

What a great question. Readers don’t read because of the “what.” They read because of the “why.” Doing the exercise as part of my novel revisions process is proving to be revelatory.

The what and how of my novel can be found in the external plot points and milestones, but the heart of the story that will keep a reader engaged can be found in the answer to question #14, because that answer is about what I believe in and what I stand for.

I can tell you that my novel is about a surviving twin who has never been able to accept that her sister committed suicide and this sets her upon a quest to find out the truth about what happened; or I can tell you that my story is about how grief is an advocate of change and growth when you embrace it, because when you walk through grief, it becomes a healing grace. I like the second answer best, even though the first answer is true too.

Now while many story coaches may tell me “no,” a story has to be about something that happens, I am starting to view that stance as only partially correct. Yes, a good plot does prevent you from writing just a rambling narrative. But it is the “why” of the story that will be remembered by the reader more than the what and how. What I remember about Toni Morrison’s “God Help The Child,” is less the milestones of plot and more the feeling tone of a woman who is trying to untangle the wounds of her past with a heroic determination that leads to her transformation.

Here is what I am learning: A plot is the external events of a story. The emotional arc gives us the internal events of the story. To have a full, rich, compelling read, a writer must find a way to wed the why of the story with the what and how of story. As I pondered question #14–“why,” I found myself wishing that I would have known to do this before I started my novel, but interestingly, the answer was still within me. Now that I am clear on it, I know that it is coloring my revisions, inviting me to a deeper dive than if I had not answered the question at all.

As I wrote down my answers as to why THIS story, I noticed the power and passion behind the statements that I was making. This was not just answering a question about my story, this was laying out what I believe about life. Readers want to know the why. Even though the exact words may not make it to the page, the why will be revealed in the emotional logic of the story. The passion birthed from the question is the quality of emotion that I want to capture on the page. Here are a few of the things that I wrote down:

  • I am compelled to tell stories about women who rise above inner and outer adversity, because they courageously answer a higher calling within themselves to stand in the light of their truth.
  • My heart is touched and moved by women who learn to believe in themselves; by women who are determined to create and live a new vision for themselves in spite of and because of adversity.
  • I believe that women are not victims, but heroines in their own story; that women do not need to be saved or rescued. Their strength and courage are innate.
  • I believe in transformation.
  • I want my story to be an inspiration to women who believe in second chances.

That’s some good stuff to know about a story. It’s some good stuff to know about yourself. A lot of writers look upon words as being their artistic tool. But cranking out sixty-thousand words is just a jumping off point. A writer’s tools are emotion. It’s the emotion and passion that you are able to put on a page that will make a reader care about your characters and the story that they are living through.

I will never write another short story or novel without first contemplating this question: Why must I tell THIS story?

How about you? Do you think that this is a good question to ask before you begin writing your next work of fiction? Hit me up in the comments section and let me know.

Here is the link to Pixar’s 22 rules:

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZHlzYXJ0Lm9yZ3xtcmVsbGlzfGd4OjFjNDNkMThjY2Q1MmIyNTE

 

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

That’s My Brag and I’m Sticken’ To It!

iStock_000010690028XSmallYou should not brag about the great sex you had last night. No bragging about how much money you make or whether or not you are the smartest person in the room. You don’t want to go through life looking like the child that got way too much praise during potty training!

On the other hand it is acceptable to brag about your grand-kids, your new living room couch or published works. I do not have any of  those things, but today I have bragging rights anyway because I completed the NaNoWriMo challenge of writing 5o thousand words in just 30 days.

For the past month while this poor blog lay fallow, visited mostly by spammers, who are now “following this blog,” I sat every single morning and wrote down approximately 1,666 words, creating a novel, my first…a couple of excerpts can be found in the November archives under the heading of “The Angel Twin.”

The long-format has been too daunting for me to consider in the past. How do you sustain a voice for 150 pages? And what is the story that you want to tell? I did not know the answer to either of those questions when I began on November 1, but I will tell you this–the way that you learn to write in long format is the same way that you learn to write in any format, you just get your yaya in the chair every day and write. And on the days that your story is flat and your imagination has left for Cleveland, you write anyway.

While I didn’t create the great American novel, I did create new muscle. I am proud that I took the challenge and made it to the finish line. As far as what I wanted to say–well, I made it up as I went along, just like I do my life. I started with a premise and went from there. Now I wonder what I might be able to do with an outline!

Thus ends the month’s saga of NaNoWriMo, a process that I recommend to any writer looking to stretch their talents and gain new strength and confidence.

I promised myself a day off before I revisit what I’ve written to see what is actually there. In the meantime,  I am dreaming about possibilities, all the while blessing my faithful little laptop and feeling pretty darn good about myself!