storytelling

Prompt: Safety

The prompt today is about safety and security.

What is safety? What is security? What is it we need?

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Prompt: Letter in the Conversational Style

Write a letter in a conversational style as if you were sending a summary of the year’s events to family and friends, like an annual letter, sharing insights on family life, personalities, and activities.

Reflection on NaNoWriMo: Snowflake vs Backwards Script Writing

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Colten Hendricks, on his recent NaNoWriMo month-long writing experience.

Beginning writers often flounder when presented with the time old advice of “just write.” What we end up writing are half-baked ideas, loose plot threads, and meandering messes all over our pages. We haven’t grasped the significance of our stories to even tell them yet so we “just write” only to end up with an unsatisfying book.

The solution is also deceptively simple: write an outline. Focus on writing the actual novel confident in what we are doing and where we are going by providing two simple and highly effective outlining models known as the Snowflake Method and Backwards Script Writing.

Novelist Randy Ingermanson is the creator of the Snowflake Method, constructing it with the belief that effective outlining looks much like a the structure of a snowflake snowflake; we start with a core idea and, from there, add details. Then we simultaneously take those details and expand them into further details allowing us to also always keep the parent ideas in mind and ensure continuity between cause and effect in our stories.

The process itself is broken into 10 easy to follow steps which follow closely to a traditional three act structure:

  1. Write a one-sentence summary of your novel.
  2. Expand the sentence into a full paragraph covering the setup, primary obstacles, and end.
  3. Write a one-page summary of your main characters which should include the character’s name, motivation, and a paragraph summary to their role in the story.
  4. Take each sentence in your novel summary paragraph and turn those into a paragraph each.
  5. Write a one-page synopsis of each major character and a half-page synopsis for each supporting character, preferably from their point of view.
  6. Expand each paragraph in the novel summary into a page.
  7. Fill in the details to your character profiles, from personal histories and family members to beliefs, flaws, and expected epiphanies.
  8. Take your book summary and make a list of scenes you will need, a line on what happens in them, and the POV character. Ingermanson recommends using a spreadsheet to do this step.
  9. As an optional step, return to your book outline and expand each scene into a paragraph. Most importantly, use this step to ask yourself if the scene is necessary and dramatic enough to justify its existence.
  10. Now write your book.

By step 10, we have everything we need to comfortably write with purpose. From then on, we need only go back and forth between our first draft and outline, scrapping out old ideas that we have decided will not work anymore, and adding new ideas when they arise.

Yoko Taro, a video game director known for his 2017 Nier: Automata, spoke at the 2014 Game Developers Conference on his process of Backwards Script Writing which diverges from the Snowflake Method in that instead of viewing the outlining tool as branching from a single, general idea, we instead focus on the end and the story’s emotional peak-the feelings and ideas the story is meant to invoke into your audience. Plot points provide the context for the emotional peak and are necessary in creating a reason for us to care for scenes which emotionally stir its audience. By starting with the emotional peak, we also need to ask ourselves whether a plot point contributes to that quintessential moment and, if not, should be discarded to save time for both ourselves and our readers.

Using Yoko’s example, if our emotional climax is that a girl dies and it is sad, then we need to ensure that our narrative also provide adequate reason for us to be sad when she dies. Perhaps it was her wedding day, she’s kind to everyone she meets, or the main character is in love with her. Additional emotional peaks may be added as well when needed, such as with the main character in love example since we would likely need to like our main character to empathize with him as well as sell the romance that they share.

Yoko’s Backwards Script Writing extends into worldbuilding. A lack of engagement from the audience in our worlds, whether they are fictional or not, is often due to meaningless details. Using our previous example of a girl dying and it being sad, an additional reason for us to care about the event is that the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which the earth is dying and all people have long since discarded values of love and cooperation. The girl becomes a beacon of hope, treasured, giving us a reason to care. When we care about the characters, we tend to care about the world in which they exist. The Snowflake Method ensures that the writing development process remains unbroken. Backwards Script Writing makes every detail matter, enriching the storytelling.

These methods help writers migrate from amateurs to professionals as they use the combination of Snowflake and Backwards Script Writing methodologies. Begin with an outline, make the details matter, and find yourself writing better, more powerful stories.

How Well-Written Prose Elicits Emotions and Draws Out Passion

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.

The Cook

The following is by Writers in the Grove member Gretchen Keefer.

Chapter One

Having the cook was a bit expensive, but worth every dollar. Janelle had totaled up the costs of eating out or getting take-out for a month, including the lunches they both purchased most days, and showed the numbers to Jason. They could save half the cost of a part time cook by avoiding those commercial meals. The meals at home would be delicious, more nutritious and offer more variety than Janelle (and Panda Express) offered.

Jason eventually agreed. The cook came in the afternoon, five days a week, and prepared dinner. She created a shopping list for Jason and Janelle to complete over the weekend. She also cleaned up the kitchen and generated lunches from leftovers before she left.

Jason enjoyed the variety of tasty dishes and Janelle was more relaxed in the evenings. They talked more over dinner and during the evening. They discovered more topics they could discuss without upsetting one another. Entertaining also became easier and more fun. In fact, Jason and Janelle began to enjoy their lives more than they ever had.

More confident and self-assured, Jason was promoted at work; Calmer and more rested Janelle landed the management position she had been striving for. Their combined salary increases more than made up for the cook’s salary. The couple started spending their restful evenings planning the vacation of their dreams for the following year. Yes, the cook was worth every dollar.

Chapter Two

Three years later Jason had gained so much weight his blood pressure shot up and he developed heart trouble. His energy slipped and he did not think as quickly at work as he had. Janelle’s love of desserts had triggered Type 2 Diabetes. She lost the baby she and Jason had carefully planned for during their peaceful evenings. Her ensuing depression led to both of them drinking more wine with their gourmet meals, continuing into the evenings. Soon it became important to add alcohol to lunches as well. Soon Janelle was asked to leave her employment.

Jason missed a lot of work with his health issues and lost his job as well, so the cook had to go. Janelle began to learn more recipes to balance her diabetes with Jason’s weight loss program. They made time to discuss their options, such as moving, downsizing, or living more frugally. It was a difficult spot in their lives. All the good times they had spent chatting and enjoying each other’s company faded as they faced this new struggle.

Eventually they settled into new routines in the small town where Jason had found a suitable job. Their health gradually improved and they felt less pressure to keep up with coworkers and neighbors. Since Janelle was home to prepare meals on time, she felt less stressed about dinners and gradually the relaxing evenings began again. One morning Janelle woke up to realize how happy she was. Truly happy.

Yes, the cook was really worth the expense.

2017 November 28 Prompt

During the 2017 NaNoWriMo event in November, Writers in the Grove members offer these prompts to provide inspiration and incentive to keep you going during the self-competition to write 50,000 words in 30 days. You may find NaNoWriMo prompts from previous years and prompts from our weekly workshops.

Today’s NaNoWriMo prompt is:

Writing isn’t hard, so why am I beating my head against this blank page?

If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, or wish to, Writers in the Grove offers an extensive range of NaNoWriMo tips and techniques to help you through the month long writing project.

2017 November 16 Prompt

em>During the 2017 NaNoWriMo event in November, Writers in the Grove members offer these prompts to provide inspiration and incentive to keep you going during the self-competition to write 50,000 words in 30 days. You may find NaNoWriMo prompts from previous years and prompts from our weekly workshops.

Today’s NaNoWriMo prompt is:

The recipe of our life.

If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, or wish to, Writers in the Grove offers an extensive range of NaNoWriMo tips and techniques to help you through the month long writing project.

Tell Me a Story

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Bev Walker, based upon the prompt, The Roles We Play.

“Why can’t a woman be more,
More like a man?” he said.
“Because then you wouldn’t be here,” says I.

Would I trade having kids,
Watching them grow,
Laugh, learn,
For the hard labor of a
Construction site?
Or sitting in an office all day?
No.

Would I trade the warm scent
Filling my kitchen
As I take loaves of fresh bread
Out of the oven,
For the oil and grease
Of a mechanic, a factory,
Or the dry sterile atmosphere
Of a skyscraper downtown?
No.

Would I like to be an astronaut,
Like Peggy Whitson,
Out there, exploring the stars?
Yes!

But the time is not,
Nor ever was,
For me to fly to the moon,
Discovery electricity,
Romance in Paris,
Dance across the Great Wall,
Or pet a tiger.
But I can.

I can do whatever anyone
Throughout time has ever done,
Feel what they’ve felt,
See what they’ve seen.

So, show me, storyteller.
Where have you been?
What have you done?
What have you seen?
Tell me a story
So I can go, too.

8 May 2017