The Mastery Path for Writers: a new way to learn the skills you need

Story Lesson 23: The Language of the Imagination

October 20, 2015

Tags: 6. Making Stories

If you want to make images come alive in the mind of your reader, then you need to use a specific kind of language: I call it “the language of the imagination.” We could also call it “the language of the senses.”

If you’ve been doing all the practices, you’ll remember that a well-developed faculty of imagination depends on strong powers of observation. In the same way, the language of the imagination depends on words that evoke sensory experience. (more…)

Story Lesson 22: Letting Images Lead

October 10, 2015

Tags: 6. Making Stories

PRACTICE: LISTENING TO PICTURES 3
Choose a story—a short one—that you want to write (or are in the process of writing). This can be a brief anecdote, a folktale you want to retell—anything you like. Now be relaxed, and then let the story unfold in your imagination, one image at a time. Try to concentrate on images that involve action or happenings. As with the previous practice, it’s fine if words come as well (if characters are speaking, for instance), but try to keep your attention on the pictures. (more…)

Story Lesson 21: Listening to Pictures

September 10, 2015

Tags: 6. Making Stories

The imagination is central to making stories, for when a reader reads one of our stories, it takes place in her or his imagination. Whether the story is true or invented, realistic or fantastic, it is never taking place, for the reader, in the world around her; it is always taking place in an world inside her head, an imagined world. (In this respect a story, whether told or read, is different from a play, which is taking place in front of the audience’s eyes.)

If we want our stories to speak to the imaginations of readers, then, we need to know something about the faculty of imagination.

You may want to take some time to review the imagination practices (lessons 16-20).

The imagination is the mental faculty that thinks in pictures. It is a storehouse of images taken from direct observation of the world around us, from books and magazines and movies and anything else we encounter that we pay attention to. From this storehouse we select images to use in our stories, and we combine bits and pieces of images in order to make new ones. Finally, we use the medium of language to transfer the pictures in our minds to the imaginations of our readers. (more…)

Story Lesson 20: Thinking in Stories

August 20, 2015

Tags: 6. Making Stories

“Thinking in stories” sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? What could thinking and stories possibly have to do with each other?

In school, when (supposedly) we are taught to “think,” we are taught what is known as “abstract thinking,” the kind of training of the intellect that provides the foundation for all academic disciplines. While skill in this kind of thinking is necessary for those who want academic careers, and while it has its uses in ordinary life, it’s not of much value to imaginative writers—in fact, if you want to write creatively, too much training in abstract thinking can handicap you. (more…)

Story Lesson 19: Movement

August 9, 2015

Tags: 6. Making Stories

Whichever tools you make use of in your writing, and whether or not you construct an elaborate plot for your story, there are two things you will have to consider:focus (or theme) and path.

If, as Ursula LeGuin says, all stories involve change, then we can think of a story as taking our readers on a journey. But what kind of journey is it?

To answer that question, we need to know the focus of the story: what is it really about? (more…)

Story Lesson 18: Learning from the Pros

July 30, 2015

Tags: 6. Making Stories

Several times so far in these lessons, I have encouraged you to turn to a story by your favorite writer to see how some aspect of it works, and then to imitate that technique. I want here to emphasize how important for your learning this study and imitation of a master writer is.

Although (more…)

Story Lesson 17: Story Process

July 12, 2015

Tags: 6. Making Stories

How do we begin to make a story? It seems to me that there are lots of “ways in” to the process, and each writer needs to find the one that works for her or him. Most likely, you already have a process that you like to use. And you have probably found, as I have, that not every story is born and grows in exactly the same way.

So rather than setting out specific steps to follow every time you want to write a story, let me offer you some tools. (more…)

Story Lesson 16: Story, Plot, and Character

June 22, 2015

Tags: 6. Making Stories

If you have read a lot of writing manuals, you will undoubtedly have found instruction in how to create a plot. You may have come to the conclusion that plot and story are the same thing. But they are not.

The stories told in oral cultures do not have plot as we moderns are likely to understand the term. In Orality and Literacy, Professor Walter Ong observes that highly structured plots of the kind we are used to reading can only be created through the use of writing. We are usually taught that plot structures— climactic and linear— are the only way to organize story materials. But plot came into being only with writing. It was first discussed (in writing, of course!) by Aristotle, not in reference to oral storytelling, but in reference to Greek drama, which was composed in writing. (more…)

Story Lesson 15: More on Story-Time

June 9, 2015

Tags: 6. Making Stories

As we’ve seen, the world of story exists outside of real time; that may be one of the key sources of its power. Any time we hear or read a story— if the enchantment is strong enough— we may leave the realm of ordinary life, where the clock ticks on and a hour passes unnoticed; we may enter the story-world, where a hundred years pass between the moment Sleeping Beauty pricks her finger on the spindle and the moment when she is awakened by the prince’s kiss, or where in an instant a twig grows into a tree. (more…)

Story Lesson 14: The Power of What Happens Next? 2

May 22, 2015

Tags: 6. Making Stories

One of the things that may have happened to you as you did the previous exercises is that you felt a bit guilty. Oh no! a voice in your head may have said, I’m TELLING! If that happened, let me reassure you.

In the past few decades, writing teachers have become obsessed with the idea of showing. Show, don’t tell has become a mantra, repeated endlessly in classes and books about writing. While the ability to “show on the page” is certainly an important writing skill, so is the ability to tell. That’s because of the power of “what happens next?”

Humans, as I have said, love stories. And the engine of a story is its happenings. More than any other element of a good story, what keeps readers reading is, I think, that they want to know the answer to the question, “What happens next?”

And to provide them with that answer, over and over again, we must be able to tell as well as show. (more…)