Friday, January 31, 2014

Intelligences and Senses Part 3

Once again, our focus on intelligences and senses highlights ways to make our "showing" more telling.  In other words, by paying attention to the way our details highlight ways our brains work, thereby moving our writing from merely descriptive to poignant and powerful.

This time, we are going to focus on the kinesthetic portion of our writing.  By the kinesthetic portion, I mean anything that gives us insight into the body or movement.  The two are discreetly different, but both can reveal volumes about your story.

Issues of the Body:

In Romans, Paul writes:

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:14-15)

Now, I don't want to get spiritual here, but this description accurately details one of the central conflicts in our stories--our desire to do one thing with our minds and our body's desire to do another.  You can amplify the conflict in your story through the awareness of what your body desires and what you desire.  Obviously, we find the most common use of this dissonance in romance novels where the hero or heroine commonly attempts to stay away from trouble.  But we also find great use of this dissonance in stories of trying to stay up, trying to achieve a difficult task.

Other times, the body and mind are in agreement on an issue, but the use of the body's cues can still emphasize a moment.

Issues of Movement:
 The process of movement itself can greatly enhance a story.  How do you move through the house when you come in?  How does that movement change if you're returning in the afternoon or late at night?  Nearly every mystery novel has a sneaking scene--and the sneaking adds to the suspense!  But issues of movement need not be confined to sneaking.  Think about the ways you choose to drive--on back roads, on main roads, zigging back and forth, staying in one lane, etc.  Each decision says something about your mood and who you are, and these insights can add meaning to your story.

Assignment:
Write a new piece or revise an old one to emphasize the kinesthetic aspect of a portion of the story.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Intelligences and Senses Part 2

So we've been talking about the intelligences and how they help us paint pictures in our stories.  As we mentioned earlier, most of our memoirs are fundamentally about interpersonal relationships (our relationships with important people in our families) or intrapersonal knowledge (our own thoughts and feelings).  But we can paint a picture of those relationships and the growth of them through using our senses and the other intelligences.

Today, I want to talk about using music to help reveal interpersonal relationships.  You can use music to reveal interpersonal relationships in several ways.

The most obvious use of music is a blatant reference to a song.  For example, I could write a story of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."  I would start with my earliest memories of the song, its rocking rhythm, its long phrasing, my father weaving on his chair, eyes closed, as he caressed the song out of his bassoon.  Then I would move on to understanding how the song mattered to our family, that it was my paternal grandmother's favorite, that it had been used at every wedding since her own (and maybe used in her parents?  I should ask), how I came to hear that song and think of her and of family.  Then I could move on to the recent funeral of my grandfather, where the song was played again, this time by my cousin, who looks so much like all the men in my family (including my father), who wove with his oboe as my father had with his bassoon, and how now I, like my grandmother, can't hear the song without dry eyes.  This case is a blatant, but no less powerful, way of using a song ("Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring") to add power to a story (the flow of family changes, from weddings to funerals and generations of music lovers).

The second use is slightly more interwoven.  In this case, you would probably still identify the song, but you would also include lyrics or phrases from the song into the story itself.  For example, a lot of people use music (or playlists) to keep them in tempo in exercise or some other prolonged activity.  In this case, you would explain the activity and weave in the words and/or rhythms. For instance, I could write about the time I absconded with my father's messianic music that he'd received as the church choir director and used the beat for the dance for aerobics.  I could add in the words and beat into my description of my workout, my mother's repeated requests that I go downstairs where I didn't make the china cabinet rock with my jumping, and the place where the dog barked along with the song (or with my workout, I could never be sure).  In this case, the song is present in more than the reference--it is linked with the action.

The third use is one of assonance (the use of repetitive vowel sounds), alliteration (the repetition of initial consonant sounds), and consonance (the repetition of internal consonant sounds).  Careful use of these sounds give prose a musical quality and often create a rhythm based on the length or ease with which the sounds are said.  Hard sounds will give the feeling of an obstacle--they may slow you down, or they may add to a feeling of prancing excitement.  Soft sounds are often used to speed up a section or to quiet it down (as a lullaby).  Long o's and u's soften and sadden a piece.  Short i's usually add joy and excitement.  One of the best examples of assonance, alliteration, and consonance in the telling of a story is in Edgar Allan Poe's The Bells

The fourth use of music in story is to use the characteristics of music (its rhythm, chorus, bridge, etc.) within the structure of your story.  A terrific example of this use is the song "Sunrise Sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof (lyrics here).  Even though the song is a poem, it's also a story in which each stage of childhood is recounted until the child has reached adulthood.  The chorus returns again to the sunrise and the sunset.  You can follow the same use of chorus in your own story.  Perhaps you too want to talk about the aging of a child.  You can describe each stage as a single day, using the passage as a choral structure.  Or, you can use other uses of chorus in your stories.  Perhaps you have a repeated question--How are you?, Where have you been?, etc.--that you can use to set off the portions of your story, giving them a verse-like structure. One of our Share a Pair ladies did that this year as she began and ended her piece with the same words.  She could also have used it more frequently if she had wanted, although it's fine the way it is.  I just wanted to show you how the structure can be used.  Similarly, you could choose to use the echo between parts that a cannon shows if you want to explain similarity between generations.  For example, I could tell a story of my dad trying to do something with his tongue sticking out, repeat a story of myself following a similar pattern, also with my tongue sticking out, and follow it up with a story of my son concentrating on a new task, also with his tongue sticking out.  If I choose to repeat sentence structure, verbs, and images, I essentally invoke the power of melody over the story.

So, your assignment this week is to use any (or all) of these uses of music to enhance a story that you want to tell.  I can't wait to hear them!


Friday, January 3, 2014

Different Pictures: Interpersonal Relationships

One of the driving forces of many life stories are changes in interpersonal relationships.  After all, many of us are writing for our families, which, in and of itself, implies a tightness of relationship.

Often, however, when we are writing our stories, we are so firmly fixed on what is happening that we don't take the time to tell or show what that means to us (to quote a member of this group, "What does it mean?" and "How did you feel?").  To make the story and its action matter to the reader, you have to be able to show both--and showing doesn't always mean with your eyes.

In this blurb here, I want to give an example of showing through feeling.

"Beth, what are you doing?"

I could feel my cheeks redden even before my sister-in-law finished her question.  I could almost see my sweat steaming up in front of me before I sank down on my butt from my all-fours position to face her.  I twisted my shoulders toward her and felt my back groan as my spirit sank.  I had wanted to do her a favor so that she could rest, but, like everything else in my husband's house, I was now certain I had done this wrong, too. 

Or maybe not.

Sister-in-law's eyes crinkled, and she stroked my baby nephew's soft cheek with one finger.  He blinked bleary eyes at me.

"I just wanted to clean.  You can rest."  My fingers, suddenly itching, twisted the cool rag I had been wiping the floor with.

"Thanks," she said.  Her lips didn't smile, but her eyes did as she and my baby nephew turned and headed back up the stairs.

I let out the breath I'd been holding and turned back to the floor.  My cheeks cooled to their normal temperature as everything else went back to sweating in the South Korean August heat.

In this section, my feelings are amplified by my physical feelings.  While this section isn't perfect by any means, I hope it shows my internal turmoil regarding my relationship with my in-laws as well as challenging it with my sister-in-law's response.

Assignment:  Select a memory that reveals something about one of your relationships.  Write your story of that memory and use your senses to amplify your feelings regarding that interaction.


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