Writer does not equal storyteller

Like so many people who have a desperate, unquenchable passion for the written word, from a very young age I fancied myself a storyteller. Imagine, then, how disappointing it was to realize that I am just a good writer, a good speaker, and crafting a good story is a wholly different talent.

It was a few years back, and I was watching the splendidly written show, Gilmore Girls. One of my favourite insights from the entire series came when Emily Gilmore (matriarch of the Gilmore clan) decides she wants to set up Chris (Lorelai’s, um… baby daddy) on a date.

Cue scene:

EMILY: What about Brandi Covington? She’s a lovely girl with a wonderful sense of humor.
LORELAI: “A wonderful sense of humor”?
LORELAI: What joke has Brandi Covington ever told?
EMILY: Well, I don’t know.
LORELAI: She has a wonderful sense of humor. Tell me one of her jokes.
EMILY: I don’t know any.
LORELAI: An amusing anecdote she’s told?
EMILY: I don’t know, Lorelai.
LORELAI: A giggle-inducing pun.
EMILY: Lorelai.
LORELAI: Dirty limericks, song parody.
EMILY: Well, she has a lovely laugh.
LORELAI: Oh, so she does not have a wonderful sense of humor; she can appreciate a wonderful sense of humor.
EMILY: I guess that’s right.

It’s a good little scene from perhaps my least favourite season of the show, and it stuck in my head.

What had I learned? Appreciating funny doesn’t make you funny, just as appreciating amazing storytelling doesn’t give you the capacity to tell an amazing story. Not all great readers can be great writers too. Is that unfair?

Since then, I’ve been trying to focus on story in my writing. I don’t believe I possess the pure, raw storytelling prowess of some of those around me: my father, who is a social chameleon; my friend Emily, who shares intimate details of her life with a disarming ease and self-deprecating humour; my best friend’s husband Jon, who sells every second of a story with enthusiasm and passion; and, that little girl on the bus who – unlike her pint-sized peers – does not fill her silences with “umm” and has comedic timing far more precise than mine. These people are my inspiration and my tutors. They are special. They do naturally what so many people strive to do effectively in blogs and social media statuses; they make their lives worth talking about. It’s a phenomenal talent. Do they realize the power of their gift?

There’s something so potent about storytellers. They are a greater force than writers. They live inside the emotion and the meaning of their tales. Good storytellers can communicate something that is 100% cliché or predictable or banal, and make it worth listening to or reading.

I want that. I want to tell an amazing story and support it with grammar and flow and vocabulary and be extraordinary.

One day.

Organization, multi-level lists, and the numbers of editing

Hello dear readers.

Shall I express my sincere apologies for posting nothing but writing prompts for the last number of weeks? I shan’t, for I was deep within a story that demanded every moment of focus and creativity, and I happily neglected this blog. The Nereid is the story that emerged from the rough, disorganized, hopelessly bland mass of words I squished out of my mind from NaNoWriMo 2013. In all honesty, I had intended to pick it up again in January… but when I read it through I could not mentally traverse the leagues of work that remained to be done to salvage it.

Then, about a month ago, something clicked. And then something else clicked. Then things were clicking all over the place, like being surrounded by people cracking their knuckles (except, you know, in a pleasant and productive kind of way…), and I was able to move forward on the project.

The greatest issue I was having with my story was how it would be told through time. My draft was a hodge-podge of different techniques.

Inspired by my new job, which at times requires me to format hundred-page, multi-level documents, I did a timeline of my story – from the beginning of time until a generation past its “conclusion” – and assigned each level of the story a number.

For example (not actually the plot of The Nereid):

Part 1: Pre-history of the protagonist
Timeline: 2002-2027
Section 1.1: Protagonist has an accident-prone childhood
Chapter 1.1.1: Protagonist falls down the stairs
Chapter 1.1.2: Protagonist gets hit by a car
Chapter 1.1.3: Protagonist gets hit by a meteor
Section 1.2: Protagonist has a period of incredibly graceful teenage years
Chapter 1.2.1: Protagonist is forced to take dance lessons in high school gym class, and has natural talent
Chapter 1.2.2: Protagonist auditions for a reality dance show
Part 2:  Main body of the story
Timeline: 2027-2034

When I created a timeline for my story, I listed the general plot points that coordinated with each Part, Section, and Chapter in increasing detail. Then, where applicable, I pasted any corresponding parts of my NaNoWriMo draft in the appropriate chapter.

This was an incredibly useful process that I’ve never used before. This multi-level timeline allowed me to see the progression of events from the first moment to the last, assess where my plot was fuzzy or inconsistent, see the places in the story where I have opportunities for character and plot development, and – perhaps most importantly – get a good sense of how much work there still is to do. But my favourite thing about working in these numbered portions is how simple it is to manage my master file. Believe me. It’s a dream.

Until next time, readers.

Enthuse your muse with this writing prompt

Let the following random sentence chosen from a book on my bookshelf inspire you. Don’t think just write.

“In those days I was young, and all sorts of fancies bright and dark tenanted my mind: the memories of nursery stories were there amongst other rubbish; and when they recurred, maturing youth added them to a vigour and vividness beyond what childhood could give.”
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte