Friday, June 7, 2013

The Summer and Your Stories

Here is a brief synopsis of the discussions/decisions that have taken place in class:
  1. Schedule:  The lifestory writers will continue to meet on Fridays at the Plum Library beginning at 10:30 AM during June and July (the July 5th meeting is cancelled due to the holiday weekend).  The class will take a break in August (along with the rest of the programming at the Plum Library), and will resume on September 6th.
  2. Assignments:  We recently had a very lively discussion on how to connect our stories, and I realized that we haven't spent a great deal of time learning how to take our many shorter stories and turn them into a longer narrative.  However, not everyone will want or need those lessons every week.  Working on the bigger picture is a task you attend to and then walk away from to do some detail work and then return to later when you have finished the other steps.  Therefore, you will need two types of assignments:  the first, a big picture, connecting assignment; the second, a small picture, story-writing-prompt assignment. To meet these needs, I will be posting two sets of assignments separately.
    1. On Lives in Letters, I will post help for linking your stories.
    2. On Share a Pair of Stories, I will post individual writing prompts to tie in with the Share a Pair of Stories theme.  Adult prompts will be posted twice a week, once on the Friday and once the coming Monday.  The Friday prompt corresponds to our class meetings.  After all, who doesn't leave fired up?  I want you to have information right away.  But the summer reading program goes on a Monday schedule, so I will post additional prompts for all writing ages on Mondays.
 Soooo.... back to our work in linking our stories.  I'm going to walk you through one of my projects while we work.

Last week, we looked at our over-arching theme.  The project I will be looking at is my reverse devotional.  As all of you in the class will remember, after I'd shared about ten stories overall--some with you and some with other writing groups--a few of you pressed me to really qualify what I was doing.  You asked me what my theme was and what my genre was.  That meeting was a couple of months ago, and I have only recently come back to it, so if you had (or are having) trouble finding your theme, don't worry.  I needed additional help, and you can feel free to ask for it too.

But I did find my theme (with the integral help of you ladies), and my theme is two-fold:
  1. You often don't understand the scripture/wisdom until you've gone through the school of hard knocks (even if you have been graciously lectured in it previously); and
  2. God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the strong, and the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.
Now comes the second part of linking your story together:  finding the genre.

Now, I think that my genre will be primarily a devotional with a memoir component.  You may also find that your stories will be hybrids--one genre with a memoir component.

So this post will help you isolate the type of story you are writing by quickly going over the memoir expectations and then moving on to the other major types of stories.

Here are the major components about mass-market memoir currently:
  1.  They range between 40,000 and 80,000+ words (I have heard that 70,000 is about right).  Some have approximately 10 longer chapters (The Journal of Best Practices, Lessons from the Monk I Married).  Others have as many as 30 shorter chapters (Carry On, Warrior; Road Swing).
  2. Their frame tale is told chronologically.
  3. Their frame tale has a beginning and an end.  Generally, that beginning is not birth, and the end is not death.
  4. Flashbacks and foreshadowing are used to reveal events which take place outside of the frame tale's timeline.
  5. A memoir generally tells two stories--one of inner change and one of outer change.  The type of outer change described generally corresponds with the other genre component of your story.
 Researchers keep "discovering" that we make meaning from our lives by fitting them into the frames of stories we already know.  The pilgrim's did it in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.  Freud studied it in Dream Psychology.  Jung catalogued it in The Collective Unconscious and the Archetypes.  Hayden White applied it to history in The Content of the Form, and numerous current researchers are applying it to our daily lives in works ranging from the papers coming out of The Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life (MARIAL) to the Jonathan Gottschall's The Storytelling Animal

Below are a few genres of stories that often cross over into memoir:
  1. Bildungsroman or Coming of Age stories.  These stories feature a central character's increased awareness of his core values and abilities and his development of those values and abilities to overcome a significant obstacle and enter adulthood.  This genre is one of the most common in memoir-crossover.
  2. The Adventure.  Often, the adventure novel is a quest story, which covers many travel narratives and travel logs.  A quest story often begins with a challenge (the proposed journey), the taking up of the challenge (the character's decision to take it), a benediction to send out the character, a series of obstacles (each of which test the character's skill and ultimately prepare him for the final test), the achievement of the goal (what does the character learn), and his reintegration into his society (how has he changed?).  Several of you are writing adventure stories.
  3. Mystery.  This sometimes comes up in adoption stories.  Instead of an initiating crime or set up that way, there is often a hole.  The tale is the journey, complete with red herrings and failures to meet expectations in addition to twists in the story.  In the end, though, a mystery generally leaves one with a sense of justice, or, if not justice, a sense of order.  The solving of the mystery should bring a sense of closure.
  4. Romance.  A romance is the story of a relationship.  It need not be a romantic relationship.  In a sense, my devotional will cross over with romance.  A romance is preoccupied with the main character and their fascination with another character. The character needs to be introduced within the first chapter and needs to be, if not in every scene, mentioned in every scene.  There should be an early understanding that both like one another, but intervening obstacles make their peaceful union impossible until the end.  Many of you who are writing for your children will be writing a romance with your family.
  5. Thriller/Horror.  These are generally written to make your pulse race and are often hardship stories.  They tend to continually up the ante, not dwelling on feelings or resolution but propelling the reader through to the end.  Resolution is simply a ceasing of action and not an understanding of the implications of the events that occurred.  (Frankenstein would not be a good example.  Dracula would.)
  6. Historical Fiction.  This genre still tells a narrative, but the narrative never moves at the expense of the facts.  The author and reader of these stories is equally interested in telling about the time period as about telling about the action, and, very importantly, the author is invested in explaining how the environment and period helped determine what happened.  Several of you are also writing this genre crossover.
Based on these overarching genres, determine if you are looking at a book with a series of short chapters or longer ones.  Also, consider what your crossover genre might be.  In my case, my crossover genre will be romance (and devotional) and will have many (40ish) short chapters.

Writing/revision assignment:  If you have discovered what type of narrative you are writing, go back to one of your stories.  Identify the aspects of it which place it in its genre (the obstacles of the quest, the preoccupation with the person, the historical facts, etc.).  Emphasize them more.

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