Erik Armitage paid tribute on Montana Public Radio to author, James Welch, and the lessons he learned through his universities studies readying the author specializing in Montana history and storytelling.
Taking a writing class at UM seemed like a good idea for someone who likes to read, especially someone who likes to read about Montana history. Maybe I’d even learn how to write something meaningful. Lord knows I’ve tried. I wasn’t attempting to write a best seller, just trying to chronicle some of my own family history on paper. “How hard can it be to just tell a story the way it happened?” I told myself after reading my own drivel. I was reminded of my wife telling me to make white chicken chili. “How do I do that?” I said. “All the ingredients are on the counter. Do this, this and this. I’ll be home at 6:00”. Ok, simple enough. When it was done it tasted like dishwater. After doing the dishes. Writing is the same way. I have all the ingredients; Pen, paper, an ability to read. I’ve read dozens and dozens of non-fiction books so I should have some grasp of at least being able to form a sentence, right? Dirty dishwater.
Armitage wrote about the ethos Welch brought to his writing, telling stories of “sadness heaped on sadness,” and how the author connected with the reader through emotion. He summed it up with:
It is an incredible thing to form words together to elicit emotion and draw out passion. To make you laugh or cry, to make you smell gun smoke. To make you want to talk to your dead grandmother just one more time.
Each Monday (and the second Saturday of the month), Writers in the Grove members struggle with a new prompt by exploring emotions to elicit passions in others in their 15 minute creative writing ventures. We explore sadness, relationships, loss, happiness, joy, mystery, self-examination, doubt, wonder, curiosity, jealousy, anger, regret, and every emotional state to help tell our stories.
We’ve learned to show not tell as we write in a hurry before the countdown ends. We’ve learned to create characters easily recognized, and tap into storytelling techniques that connect with readers, sweeping them into our stories.
If we don’t connect with our emotions as we write, it’s all dishwater. We have the ingredients, so why do we tend to write dishwater.
That’s the secret sauce for writers shifting from just writing to true storytelling. The recipe before us is the same stuff available to everyone. It’s your passion for the final result that makes your main entree a success, and makes the writing not taste like dishwater.