Wrestling With Story

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September 14, 2010 by David Gillaspie

(please visit http://uphillwriting.org/)

If experience makes a better story, then telling that story is less about story; it’s about the amazing experience, not the story.

Did Herman Melville row into the sea with a harpoon at the ready before he could write Moby Dick?  Bad example; he probably did.

Was Edgar Allan Poe a freak?  I like to think so.

Did Ken Kesey trip?  From all accounts, yes. 

Yet they all had a grip on the idea of story; a beginning, a middle, an end; a first act, a second act, a third act; the set-up, the complication, the resolution. 

What is story?  The normal world in broad strokes; the abnormal world in slices; the new world of healing.

Easy now, it’s a metaphor, not a shiv.

The normal world is a house, an apartment, under a bridge, just make it vivid; a safe place.  The abnormal world is the opposite, but this is the tricky part: opposite of what?  Emotionally opposite?  Financially opposite?  Sexually opposite? 

Usually it’s a combination of all, with one opposite acting in an unbrella role that later changes.

For example:  A middle-aged man is ready to settle.  He doesn’t want another beauty queen, debutante, or student body president.  He’s already had them. 

He wants a good woman.

He meets her.  He has to meet her, right?  So he meets her and it’s all good.  She’s from England

She meets his parents; it’s a barbecue on the back deck.

She takes him to England to meet her’s.

Her parents live on a channel houseboat, cruising the inland waterways. 

They travel for a month.

HIS parents hear of this and think they are gypsies.  HER parents invite them to southern Spain to see the real thing.

They go. 

Hilarity ensures

They break up in the middle and get together. 

Then the end.  What was learned?  What was gained?  Lost? 

John Irving says he needs to know the end of his story before he can begin.  Maybe the beginning.

Every writer needs one or the other.  Irving does every writer an additional favor, he tells them all how to identify themselves as writers: 

“Take every spare moment to write, and you are a writer.” 

A writer writes stories for others to read.  When others read those stories they feel something unexplainable, except that they want to feel it again.  Making that happen is the writer’s job.

Are you a writer if you work in a museum and fill out donated object worksheets?  If you are, then you’d do it like this:

Identify the material: metal, wood, ceramic, textile, stone, or animal product.

STORY:  the foundation, dependable or not; how dependable.

Describe the object’s shape:  angular, curved, post, or flat.

STORY:  turn-arounds, transitions, linear, familiar, switches.

Describe what the object was used for.

STORY:  What does the main character want, and want real bad.

Notes:  Mrs. Johnson’s great-great-grandmother used the knife made from a pioneer’s wagon wheel to gut deer she shot from the back porch of her family cabin.  Mrs. Johnson said she’s done the same thing. 

STORY:  Give people something to do, something to feel.  Give readers a key to the action and feelings.  Invite them in, then put them through the wringer. 

 Go to a museum and you expect to find the real deal.  George Washington‘s hatchet; Roosevelt’s braces; Kennedy’s rocking chair

Read the first sentence of a story and you expect the same thing.  You expect better than real.

Writers keep writing new stories because their last one wasn’t good enough.  They change it and make it better, then turn it loose and start again. 

It’s never good enough, but the job is to try.


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