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

Story Lesson 13: The World of “What Happens?”

And after all, it is not the expectation of a happy ending that carries us on. Rather it is the unraveling of the story itself; it is the traveling and not the destination.
—Jane Yolen, introduction to Folk Tales of the World

What makes a story? There are lots of answers to that question. Some people think that story demands a main character driven by desire. Others think that stories require lots of action, or conflict. My view is different. I believe that, at its most basic, a story is a series of happenings. To make a story, in its most elemental form, is to say: This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.

Whenever I have spent time with small children, I have heard this fundamental narrative drive. Phoebe, then five, once told me this story: Read More 

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Story Lesson 12: Invention

Selection and Invention
Inexperienced writers often find it difficult to “patchwork” with material collected from their own lives. But the ability to remove story-elements (events, people, etc.) from their original context is an essential skill for writers who want to be good storytellers.

I know that these days, in many writing classes and books, the main emphasis is on “being honest,” or “telling your truth.” But the best stories reveal truth, not by obsessive fidelity to every detail of an experience, but by the selection and arrangement of the most important details. To become skilled at making good stories, you need to know, not only how to collect material, but how to select from it. Read More 
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Story Lesson 11: Patchworking

Patchworking

In her introduction to her anthology, Favorite Folktales of the World, Jane Yolen, a writer and storyteller herself, tells us that, as she researched and gathered tales,
I was reminded again and again how bits and pieces of stories—archetypal characters, situations, magical hats or sticks or rings—have been lifted from one teller’s quilt and sewn into another. The patchworking of Story is endless. Read More 

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Story Lesson 10: Playing with Story Material

Once you’ve collected some material for stories, you’ll probably need to play with it for a while before you understand how to proceed. It’s certainly possible that, as you collect your material, you suddenly see how you can use it to create a story; more likely, though, you’ll need to play with the material in different ways first. Here are some things to try: Read More 

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Story Lesson 9: Retelling Stories

A kid who wants to be a baseball player will often pick a professional athlete to imitate. That’s because one of the main ways humans learn is through imitation. We writers can learn our storytelling skills in the same way.

There are a number of skills we need in order to be good storytellers; one of the most important is being able to come up with events for our stories. Read More 

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Story Lesson 8: An Instinct for Story 2

STORIES FROM WITHIN
So far we’ve been collecting material for stories from outside sources; naturally, we can also collect story-material from inside ourselves, from our memories, our imaginations, or both.

PRACTICE: Stories from within 1
Using the freewriting technique, write as many sentences as you can that begin with I want to tell a story about.... or I want to tell that story about... Let yourself just play as
you do this.  Read More 

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Story Lesson 7: The Instinct for Story

When a day passes it is no longer there. What remains of it? Nothing more than a story. If stories weren’t told or books weren’t written, man would live like the beasts—only for the day. Today we live, but by tomorrow today will be only a story. The whole world, all human life, is one long story.
—Isaac Bashevis Singer  Read More 

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Story Lesson 6: Story Materials 3

Ideas and material for stories can come from anywhere: from our own experiences or those of our friends; from history or current events; from tales told in our own cultures or in other places around the world; from our observation; from our imagination. If we want to write stories, all we have to do is pay attention, and stories will come to us. Read More 

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Story Lesson 5: Story Materials 2

To make a story, you need ideas and material, just as a cook who wants to make soup needs vegetables and salt and stock. It’s impossible to create a story out of nothing. Where do these ideas and material come from? They can come from outside you—from your reading or your observation—or they can come from inside you—from your memories or your imagination. In both cases, if you want to be able to discover and use this material, you need to collect it. Read More 

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Story Lesson 4: Telling Stories

In oral cultures, when someone wants to learn to tell stories, she or he undergoes a process of learning that is quite different from what we typically engage in in school. First, an aspiring storyteller has to listen to lots and lots of stories, and she may have listen to the same story a number of times. Without writing, she can only absorb the story into memory by receiving it through her ears, and by letting it sink into her subconscious. (The faculty of memory is, as you might expect, developed among oral peoples to a degree we would consider phenomenal.)  Read More 

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