storytelling

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.

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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

Prompt: Humor in the Yarns

The mystery of knitting … remains a mystery” was published in April 2017 on The Christian Science Monitor by Murr Brewster. Her essay went viral and became our prompt this week.

That’s just freaky. Because knitting makes no sense at all. A knitter, by definition, creates holes by surrounding them with string, using sticks, a clickety-clickety noise, locally sourced air, and goodness.

Those of us who suspect we are not innately good can barely aspire to the art. And yet, I so aspired. I wanted a hat.

I bought a ball of string and some sticks and I found a tutorial online. After stopping the video four or five hundred times, I cast on 50 stitches. Then, staring hard, and trying to make my sticks and string match up to the video, I succeeded in making an entire knit stitch.

Then I made another one. And somehow, with great care and deliberation, I soldiered my way to the end of the row, 50 knits in a line. It was a triumph of historic proportions.

Slow, yes; challenging, sure; and yet majestic and powerful. I felt like Hannibal marching his elephants across the Alps into Italy.

I consulted the tutorial. They don’t warn you about this when you’re learning how to knit, so I’ll tell you now: You can’t just learn to knit. You have to learn to purl, also.

“Hit the boats!” I heard Hannibal shout. “We’re headed to Sardinia!”

Nuts! I studied the video again, and I manufactured a single purl stitch, and then another, and eventually rowed my way back to the beginning. According to the calm and cheerful woman in the video, that’s all there is to it. If you can make a knit stitch, and you can make a purl stitch, you’re on the road to glory. You can make cable-knit trousers for an octopus. I was beginning to be suspicious of her, but I carried on.

Our prompt, based upon this article, was first to study it and discover what made it work, and not work. We explored:

  • Storytelling structure: Does it have the right storytelling structure? What is the structure?
  • Audience: Who is the writer talking to? What does it tell us about the audience?
  • Purpose: What is the purpose of the article? What does it tell us about the author?
  • What tools were used: How were metaphor, simile, humor, drama, and other writing and storytelling tools used?

The next part of the prompt was to write something based upon this example and use humor.

Storytelling Week Starts April 1, 2017

The Art of the Story: 13th Annual Storytelling Festival presented by the Washington County Cooperative Library Services begins April 1, 2017, and runs through April 8.

If you haven’t done this before, it is a must-see, must-listen event. The storytelling is spectacular, and you are guaranteed tears and cheers by these outstanding storytellers.

The festival this year features four professional storytellers from the Pacific Northwest, and four Story Slam contestants. They include:

Admission to all events are free. The festival performances are designed for adults, though there are several shows that welcome children.

The schedule is:

  • Saturday, April 1 – Beaverton Library: 7 – 9 p.m. – 12375 SW Fifth St, Beaverton, OR 97005 – Story Slam Contest (Adult program) – David Alexander, Brian Belefant, Maura Doherty and Janis Collins
  • Sunday, April 2 – Hillsboro Brookwood Library: 2 p.m. – 2850 NE Brookwood Pkwy, Hillsboro, OR 97124-5327 – Norm Brecke: The Lighter Side of Lincoln (Adult program)
  • Monday, April 3 – Tigard Library: 7 p.m. – 13500 SW Hall Blvd, Tigard, OR 97223-8111 – Norm Brecke: The Rough Edge of the Ocean (Adult program)
  • Monday, April 3 – Walters Cultural Arts Center: 7 p.m. – Co-hosted by Hillsboro Library – 527 East Main St, Hillsboro 97123 – Brianna Barrett: True Love and Other Noncommunicable Diseases (Adult program)
  • Tuesday, April 4 – Cedar Mill Library: 6:30 p.m. – 12505 NW Cornell Rd, Suite 13, Portland, OR 97229-5688 – Norm Brecke: Spaghetti Squids & Zombie Arms (Adult program & ages 6+)
  • Tuesday, April 4 – Forest Grove Library: 6:30 p.m. – 2114 Pacific Ave, Forest Grove, OR 97116-2497 – Brianna Barrett: Can My Imaginary Friends Come Too? (Adult program)
  • Wednesday, April 5 – Elsie Stuhr Center: 2 p.m. – Co-hosted by Beaverton Library – 5550 SW Hall Blvd, Beaverton, OR 97005 – Norm Brecke: Sweethearts, Swings and Misses (Adult program)
  • Wednesday, April 5 – Sherwood Library: 7 p.m. – at Sherwood Center for the Arts – 22689 SW Pine St, Sherwood, OR 97140 – Kevin Locke: Story of Standing Rock (Adult program)
  • Thursday, April 6 – Banks Library: 7 p.m. – at Banks City Hall – 13690 NW Main St, Banks, OR 97106 – Ingrid Nixon: Starry, Starry Night (Adult program & ages 12+)
  • Thursday, April 6 – Garden Home Library: 7 p.m. – Co-hosted by West Slope Library at THPRD Garden Home Rec Center – 7475 SW Oleson Rd, Portland, OR 97223 – Kevin Locke: Mni Wiconi (Water is Life) (Adult program)
  • Friday, April 7 – North Plains Library: 6:30 p.m. – at North Plains Elementary – 32030 NW North Ave, North Plains, OR 97133 – Kevin Locke: Love Stories (Adult program & ages 6+)
  • Friday, April 7 – Aloha Library: 7 p.m. – 17455 SW Farmington Rd, Ste. 26A, Aloha, OR 97078 – Ingrid Nixon: Adventure Calls! (Adult program & ages 6+)
  • Saturday, April 8 – Garden Home Library: 1 – 2:30 p.m. – at THPRD Garden Home Rec Center – 7475 SW Oleson Rd, Portland, OR 97223 – Indigenous Flute Workshop with Kevin Locke* – *Advance Registration Required – spaced is limited – contact the Garden Home Library. – (Adult program & ages 10+)
  • Saturday, April 8 – Festival Finale – Showcase Concert – Arts & Communication Magnet Academy auditorium – 11375 SW Center St, Beaverton, OR 97005 – Reception: 6:15 – 6:45 p.m. – Complimentary beverages and hors d’oeuvres. – Showcase Concert: 7 – 9 p.m. – (Adult program & ages 12+) – Story Slam Contest: Winner – Brianna Barrett: Fixated – Norm Brecke: I am a Singing Cowboy…Really? – Ingrid Nixon: Never a Dull Moment – Kevin Locke: Hoop of Life

Many Writers in the Grove members carpool to these various events, so check with each other to determine who will drive.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Point of View

NaNoWriMo isn’t about writing just one thing. It is also a time for experimentation, which can also spice up the chore of your 1,667 words a day. Try experimenting with point of view.

Write a scene told from the perspective of the main character, written in third person.

Write the scene as told from the perspective of an omnipotent narrator.

Write the scene as told from the perspective of one of the other characters.

Write the scene as told from the perspective of one of the animals nearby, a bird, cat, dog, snake.

Write the scene in first person.

Which works better? Should you change your story’s point of view? Or keep it? Either way, it mixes things up for a writing session, and helps you see your story from another perspective.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.