Sunday, June 2, 2013

Refining Your Story and Other Writing-Related Stuff

So, the week before the write off, we had quite a lively discussion on how to make your stories seem more like they belong to one-story or making your lifestory seem a bit more like a book instead of just a series of short stories.

Entire books have been written on much smaller points of this vast topic, and most of us in this group are not looking to write a dissertation on the topic or craft a bestseller (although we wouldn't mind if people really liked what we wrote!).  For most of us, the topic of refining our stories into a cohesive whole is one of pragmatics.  We intuitively know that even our families better understand stories with beginnings, middles, and ends, with conflicts and resolutions, and with overarching themes.  In the end, we want them to understand how we made meaning of our experiences, and choosing how to link our stories together helps us do that effectively.

But how do we do that without taking years to rewrite?

Well, it's not necessarily simple, but there are a few ways to link these stories, and, over the next 10 weeks or so, I will try to give you one straightforward way to do so.

Step 1:  Look back at your stories and think back over what's important to you.  Isolate a few themes.

But how can you do that?  Here are some ideas:
  • Ask some questions:
    • What shows up often in your stories?  Is it people?  Is it places?  Do you concentrate on events?  What types of events?
    • How do the things in your stories change?
    • Why are you writing?
  • Using the answers above, look for common ideas or images.
  • If you don't have a common image, look for a common metaphor.
  • From here, write a sentence or proverb that captures the common heart of your stories.
That's really hard to follow by itself, so let me give you an example.  I have a friend who is finishing up her memoir.  Most of her stories involve her remarkable friendships and the many things that she and her friends do.  In every story, though, no matter what she and her friends are doing, my friend always manages to mention the food (usually brownies!).  When she looks back at her collection of writings, she can say, "Friendship is as nourishing as food."  Once she realized that theme encompassed the work of most or most of her stories, she was able to link her stories and draw them together more.

But the first step is to find the common theme.

Step 2:  Revise a story to emphasize that theme or write a new story showing that theme at work in your life.

There's a difference in writing a story just for its own purpose and in writing a story to be part of something bigger.  Most of us intuitively will make the changes if we are aware of the overarching theme, but just in case that discernment doesn't come naturally to you, here are some of the ways that you can link your story to your central theme:
  • If you have a central image (like food), make sure that it enters into your story both literally (perhaps the characters are eating, they see food, or a stomach growls) and metaphorically (maybe you gaze hungrily out the window or the taste of success makes you hungry for more).
  • Make certain that even if the story is about something else (perhaps an argument in the parking lot), it somehow ties into the theme metaphorically (if friends are nourishing, then having a fight with one might give you metaphorical indigestion, a stomach ache, or make you feel malnourished).
  • When making your metaphors, try to focus on the verbs which can fit easily into your action without much segue (e.g., I chewed on that thought. I savored the moment).
 So with those ideas in mind, I leave you to your stories!

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