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So, at last, I’ve published The Book. It’s been years in the making.
At the start of this journey I was dwelling in limbo as “storytelling issues” cast a pallor over my first two novels, mysteries. Two words easily thrown about by agents and publishing house editors dismissively. I had clearly missed the mark on my stories, yet in 2000, few people were able to articulate exactly what that meant.
I could never quite get the hang of it myself. It was like scanning photographs of trees climbing up a mountainside, with close-ups of individual trees, diverse colors and textures of bark, leaves in all shapes of yellow and green, and other indications of tree culture but having no inkling of where the forest began or ended.
To me storytelling belonged to the fields of history, religion or culture. Oral traditions were the library of origination tales, told around campfires by native American songsters, or the stuff of Appalachian tall tale competitions, or the ancient myths of earliest peoples. I did not understand in these traditions the story models I had spent years studying in literature and fiction writing, that is, of characters wandering around a setting in search of a plot.
While pursuing research on the storytelling topic, in 2001, I was compelled to examine the ideals of love through my writing. Provoked by the loss of my dearest friend and sister, I was drawn to understand as best I could the complexity of memory and shared relationships that defined the love between us. Not a romance or a love story, but a tale about love lost while we are chasing illusive dreams into an undefined future. In every scene and conflict and event of that book, I tried to find or chase down the story that bound these characters yet I never found it. It turned out that story is what finally happened when I let the characters free to pursue their individual paths through the pages.
These days everyone seems to be pitching storytelling: it’s the key to creating great essays, great copy, great films, novels, poetry collections, even poems. I have finished four classes in the past year on storytelling from a range of sources. All cover similar approaches and the same steps from beginning to end processes.
This is a worthy tool to add to your writer’s tool kit. Although exposition varies dependent on how well the author understands the underlying concepts, structural concepts and tenets of storytelling are easy to grasp. The challenge comes in how much you believe in the usefulness of the tools.
By far my favorite book on the subject came by way of my six-year-old granddaughter, who is a fan of Nick Bruel’s Bad Kitty books. In Bad Kitty Drawn To Trouble, Bruel not only teaches first graders how to draw his mischievous character, but leads them along on a journey through character, setting, plot, rising conflict, obstacles, theme and resolution as well. And he does so with great affection and humor. It’s a great primer on story telling, and a great story to read too.
The most useful storytelling guidelines are those that keep you writing your story in your own words, providing just enough encouragement to keep your reader riding shotgun alongside you through the journey.
The rules can assist but offer little help in creating the recipe for your story. Only you, the writer, can do that.