Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Opening Windows - Ways storytellers can be present

For most people, the driving force of the story is the plot, which is often worked out in detail beforehand. For many others, the characters lead the way, filling the pages with action and chatter that seems to come from nowhere.

I'm all in favor of moving a story forward by either means. The way to get to "the end," so you have something complete and ready for revisions and, ultimately readers, is to keep things moving. But sometimes this can be taken too far. When the pace is too frantic, when the characters never pause, and when the mechanisms of story production dominate, beauty, grace, life, and art can be sacrificed.

Depending on the tale you're trying to tell, it might be wise to dedicate some time - say half a session twice a week - to opening the windows of your story and letting the fresh air in. The idea is to step away from the plot and give your characters space to take a deep breath. Then sit in the moment of the story and see what happens.

The exterior space - I am not somewhat who likes to describe sunsets in my stories. I just try to make the locations clear enough to keep readers oriented. So, as a discipline, I make myself wander through key settings and experience them before and after the characters show up. I make an effort to engage all my senses. And, once I've fully imagined the space, I sit and wait. I let the quality of the location and the sensory experience flood over me and tell me about itself. I write about what I notice, what captures my interest, and what surprises me. Instead of creating lists of impressions, I look for those few words that can convey the whole to readers.

When I do this, I find I am more present when I get back to telling the story. The setting becomes more important and plays a bigger role. I connect more deeply with the themes of the story, and the language becomes more poetic.

The interior space - Something similar happens when I first calm the protagonist (or other key character) and then inhabit him or her as fully as I can. I still their minds. I breathe their breaths. I live with them in wordless moments. And once I have come as close to the character at rest as I can, I note what I've discovered. I jot down scattered words and see if I can assemble them to make a few sentences that communicate substance and quality without action.

I open other windows - releasing the perfumes of emotion, the bebop rhythms of engagement, the dance of wordplay. All of these are apart from telling the tale and essential to it.

Experiencing story outside of story can be energizing. It can deepen commitment. It can reveal secrets. It can answer questions. It takes time and patience to do well, but the rewards are great.

No comments:

Post a Comment