Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Storytelling vs Writing a Story

Okay, I was in the middle of writing this workshop when we lost Internet last night. Here it is, updated and finished!

I had a student recently discover his inner writer. He's never done particularly well in English class and took Creative Writing only because he needed another English credit for graduation.

But then something clicked inside him when he started to write his character story (you can do the activity here). He got really into it and, on the day it was due, he came to me with a sheepish grin on his face and nothing in his hands. "I don't have it finished," he told me.

When I asked why not, he replied, "Well, you know how you said it had to be a thousand words? I'm at 1500 and I just finished the first chapter."

"Wow!" I told him, knowing that was short for a chapter, but actually thrilled that he was writing so much. "Turn in the chapter and I'll understand it's just a small piece of a much larger story."

He did, then went back to his netbook and continued writing (he's currently up to Chapter 3 and not done yet). I took his pages to my desk and found exactly what I expected: story telling instead of story showing.

In other words: a synopsis, not a written story.

What's the difference?

A synopsis tells the story quickly and without detail. It's often written in present tense and simply outlines the characters and action. For example:

Jerry and Lynn meet at the library when Jerry drops a stack of books on Lynn's toes. It's love at first sight and Lynn suggests Jerry can take her out for ice cream to make up for his klutziness. They have a good time and they end up back at Jerry's place for some hot sex.

See? Short, to-the-point, a simple telling of what happened.

As opposed to:

Jerry hefted the stack of books to be re-shelved  grumbling about the heavy work and little pay. 'Probably should've done this in two trips,' he thought to himself as the stack, the top book balanced against his nose, wobbled in his arms. But then, that would be double the work.

He took the corner too quickly and the pile started to teeter. Moving faster to counteract, he didn't notice the pretty girl sitting on the floor between the shelves until his foot connected with hers. The books toppled like a cascade of water, the pages fluttering like waterdrops around and on top of the head of the cute library patron.

And that only sets up the first sentence of the story telling version!

You see what I mean, then, about story telling versus story showing? When you write, give detail. Give dialogue and include metaphors and similes and all sorts of cool figurative language (which I'll deal with in a later workshop). Expand!

And what's cool about all this? Every one of you can take the three-sentence synopsis and write a different story from it.

I'm not kidding! My two-paragraph story-start is only one way Jerry could drop the stack of books on her toes...or head...or any part of her. There are lots of ways that could happen--and you're going to write your own version in this week's activity below.

Oh, and no, I didn't tell the kid his story was a storytelling rather than a full story. He's having too much fun discovering his new-found ability. The finessing can come later, when he's ready. Right now we're celebrating his inner-writer. :)


Using the synopsis above, write your own start to this story. Deal with just the first sentence (if the story clicks, feel free to continue into a full-length story. I claim no ownership over the idea!).

Feel free to post your starts in the comments section. Would be fun to see the differences. Just how many ways can we come up with for Jerry to drop those books?

As always, if you find these workshops helpful, please drop a coin in the box to the right or push the button below to make a donation.

edited to add: apparently the Donate button hasn't been working for a while. It is now! :)

No comments: