Friday, June 28, 2013

The Inner Change

First, REMINDER:  There is no class next week, Friday, July 5, due to the holiday weekend.


Secondly, if you are not interested in linking up your stories this week and if you don't have another idea to write on, feel free to pop on over to Share a Pair of Stories for a straight-up lifestory writing prompt.

Okay, if you are here to link up your stories, let's review our progress so far.
  1. We found the theme (or themes) that seems central or recurs often in our stories.
  2. We discovered which other genre's characteristics our story shares.
  3. We identified the places that our shorter stories should fill on a plot line of our larger story's genre.
  4. We identified the inner change that our character makes during the course of our stories and started to put specific events to the changes.
Today, we will more closely at our inner changes.  Although our inner changes don't have plot lines like the major genres or archetypes do, they do have some feelings, problems, and goals that we generally all share.

Somewhere in your journey, you likely felt:
  • Angry
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Driven
  • Afraid
  • Ashamed
  • At peace
Incorporate these feelings into your inner journey list.  Put each one beside a story that you have written or one you need to write.

Next, most of us need, on the inside, to feel secure in the following areas:
  • Trust 
  • Autonomy/Initiative (I'm able to do it myself without needing to ask.)
  • Identity, often through Industry or what you do (You need to be busy, and what you do often defines how you see yourself.)
  • Intimacy (You need to be connected, loved for who you are, and to make a difference on those around you.)
The turmoil of your story may revolve around trying to gain these or struggling with their opposites (distrust, shame, guilt, inferiority, confusion, and isolation).

Finally, most of us are seeking--and will change ourselves to obtain:
  • Physical security and satiation of basic bodily needs
  • Social belonging 
  • Self respect and respect from peers
  • Fulfillment
Identify as many of these aspects in your inner change story as possible.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Every Memoir Has at Least Two Story Lines: Part II

First, if you are not interested in linking up your stories this week and if you don't have another idea to write on, feel free to pop on over to Share a Pair of Stories for a straight-up lifestory writing prompt.

Okay, if you are here to link up your stories, let's review our progress so far.
  1. We found the theme (or themes) that seems central or recurs often in our stories.
  2. We discovered which other genre's characteristics our story shares.
  3. We identified the places that our shorter stories should fill on a plot line of our larger story's genre.
Today, we will at our story's inner story, which may be the most important.  The inner story of your memoir tells how you have changed.  It takes you from who you were to who you have become.  This process can be a bit confusing for three reasons:
  1. The change in your character is generally constrained by the timeline of the literal story, so who you become in your memoir may not be who you are now (although there are ways around this, so don't worry).
  2. The change in your character does not need to be monumental.  It may simply be the loss of naivete.
  3. The change in your character may merely be the loss and regaining of peace during and after a crisis.  It may be a passing, and not a permanent, change.
Take a moment now and try to pinpoint the change that your inner character goes through in your journey through your stories.

In my case, my change is one of becoming.  I was a non-mother.  Then I become a mother.  Then I become a better, but still not great, mother.  Then I give up becoming a great mother.  Then I become more of the mother I want to be.

These changes don't follow plotlines, so they are a little difficult to track.  Think hard about it for a while. Try to write it out in sentences as I did above.  Next, try to flesh out each of the sentences with details that hint at the scenes that each change might correlate to.

For example: 
  • I was a non-mother:  wanting children, getting pregnant, getting pregnant again.
  • Then I become a mother:  childbirth (surprise!), feelings of failure, learning about that child, childbirth again (surprise!), every child is different
  • Then I become a better, but still not great, mother:  what works, what doesn't, injuries, anger, swearing child at the shoes.
  • Then I give up becoming a great mother:  recognizing failure (oh, boy!  I will need work here!  These are hard to write--even hard to think about!), some things can't be fixed  
  • Then I become more of the mother I want to be:  becoming more authentic, really listening
Now you try.  This is all you need to write for this week.  This list is enough.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Every Memoir Has at Least Two Story Lines

First, if you are not interested in linking up your stories this week and if you don't have another idea to write on, feel free to pop on over to Share a Pair of Stories for a straight-up lifestory writing prompt.

Okay, if you are here to link up your stories, let's review our progress so far.
  1. We found the theme (or themes) that seems central or recurs often in our stories.
  2. We discovered which other genre's characteristics our story shares.
Today, we will be taking the combination of 1 and 2 and using them to discern the first of the two major story lines our stories follow.  It sounds confusing, but really it is simple.  Your story has:
  1. A literal story.
  2. An inner story.
 The literal story is what your character is physically doing throughout your stories.  Knowing what your genre is will help you define your literal story.  If your story is a(n):
  • Bildungsroman or Coming of Age story, then you will have:
    •  a period of childhood.  
    • markers moving you toward adulthood 
    • obstacles that stand in your way, all of which should arm you with skills you will need as an adult
    • a defining moment that marks you as an adult inside
    • a return to your family/home/other place where you are recognized as the adult you have now become
  • Adventure, then you will have:
    • A moment of decision in which you decide to take your adventure
    • A moment of setting out or definitively beginning.
    • A series of milestones which mark your progress
    • Obstacles which stand in your way
    • A defining moment or achievement that marks success or failure
    • A return to the beginning in which your accomplishment is acknowledged (This last step is sometimes skipped but is usually there.)
  • Mystery, then you will have:
    • Moments before the "crime"--a time when the balance has not been upset
    • A decision to begin investigating
    • A series of quandaries, some yielding good information, some not
    • At least one misleading piece of information
    • A clue that ties it all together
    • The solving of the mystery
    • Some semblance of a return to order
  • Romance, then you will have:
    • The moment of absence--when the main character recognizes a whole in his/her life
    • The entrance of the object of affection--this need not be a love interest, per se
    • A series of encounters or scenes in which the object of affection is considered
    • A moment when it becomes clear that you both care for one another
    • A series of obstacles that stand in the way of togetherness
    • The moment when these obstacles are resolved. 
  • Thriller/Horror, then you will have:
    • An average or weak hero who begins feeling average
    • A moment in which the hero is made (and feels very obviously vulnerable)
    • A series of surprising moments which may wound, but do not kill, our hero and all of which convince the reader that the danger is very real
    • A long rising action and a climax very close to the end
    • Very little resolution.  The thriller is about danger and the absence of danger and not much contemplation after the fact (there are some thrillers that involve lots of contemplation, but they are the classics and not the run of the mill thriller). 
  • Historical Fiction, then you will have:
    • A moment of beginning, grand exposition in which the stage is set
    • Your story will incorporate one of the other threads listed above but with this difference:  every action is correlated to the time period.  In other words, the individual does not function solely as an individual but as a function of an individual in time.
    •  As the story ends, it does not feel it is ending.  It should segue into the feeling that life goes on/history is still being written.
Your job now is to find the type of story your literal story is and match its plot points to the stories you already have written.  Find which stories you have and which ones you need to write.

Here's an example.  In my backwards devotional, I will essentially be telling a two-fold romance--one between myself and my children and one between me and God.  So I would take the plot points and fill them in:
  • The moment of absence--wanting children--wondering where God is
  • The entrance of the object of affection--childbirth--??  Maybe this needs to be written
  • A series of encounters or scenes in which the object of affection is considered
    • This will be a series of stories in which I discover God through parenting
  • A moment when it becomes clear that you both care for one another
    • Needs to be written--Good things verse?  
  • A series of obstacles that stand in the way of togetherness
    • Lots of these--learning issues (seeing and never perceiving), inability to obey (we all like sheep...)
  • The moment when these obstacles are resolved--big one resolving a fight (and a child shall lead them)
 Obviously, I haven't included everything, but I would guess that you want a list of twenty to thirty stories up there.  Once you have completed this step, identify your climax (the most exciting part or your turning point) and try to write it.  WARNING!!!  It can be very emotionally difficult to write a climax.  If it's too much, write as close to the scene as you can.  So if your climax is a car accident and you can't bring yourself to write about it, write about planning the trip or write about the ambulance ride afterward.

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.

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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