The Value of Story
In oral cultures, the storyteller was highly valued. That’s because, in addition to entertainment, he or she preserved in story the traditions and values of the culture. The storyteller was cultural historian, teacher, and repository of wisdom. Jane Yolen points this out in her introduction to a collection of folktales from around the world: Read More
The Mastery Path for Writers: a new way to learn the skills you need
The Value of Story
Let me tell you a story…
Ah, the magic of those six words! The invitation to sit back, relax, and surrender ourselves to the power of story. We can all recognize the voice of a writer who is a great storyteller:
In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit…
Marley was dead, to begin with…
Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again…
Once upon a time there lived a poor woodcutter who had three sons…
The voice of a storyteller on the page, just like the voice of an oral teller, grabs our attention, makes us want to keep listening, keep turning the pages. Can we learn to do have that kind of hold on our readers? Yes, we can. But we need first to understand a few things about what a story is. Read More
Imagine, if you will, a world where there is no print. No books. No newspapers and magazines, no billboards, no road signs.
Now imagine that there is no writing at all: no letters, no diaries, no notes passed in class.
And now imagine that there are no letters, no alphabets of any kind.
And now, if you can, imagine that this world without books and writing and letters is not one where those things have been wiped out, but one in which they have never existed, in which they have never even been imagined. Read More
One of the main ways that humans learn is through imitation. Young children imitate the behavior and speech of their parents and older children. In the past, apprentices in various fields imitated the masters. In the present, aspiring athletes and musicians find models to imitate. Writers, too, can use this exceptionally valuable learning tool. Here’s one way: Read More
There’s another reason I recommend that people who want to do imaginative writing not spend more time than they have to with mass media: those pre-fab images fill your imagination with content that you may not want to collect. Many studies have shown, for instance, that someone who watches a lot of television will probably view thousands of murders in his or her lifetime. Are you sure you want to fill your imagination with these particular images? Read More
As you do the imagination practices, you’ll notice that you don’t need words—not yet!
Of course, when you want to communicate the images in your mind to other people, you’ll need words. But I think that often, when they write, many people get stuck or blocked because they are straining for words instead of letting their imaginations make pictures. When you concentrate on making images in your mind—on making sure they are clear and detailed—often the words you need to get them into the mind of a reader will come to you quite easily. Read More
If you found the practices in the last lesson difficult, you may decide to give up on writing. I urge you not to do that! There are good reasons why it may be hard for you to use your imagination the way you want to.
First, the imagination has been entirely banished from our educational system (except, perhaps, in early childhood education). Instead, educators focus on the acquisition of information and the development of abstract thinking. (These are useful skills, but when they are relied upon to the exclusion of the imagination, they make us mentally unbalanced.) At higher levels of education, the banishment of the imagination is total, and “thinking about thinking” rules. If you have spent a lot of time in the academic world, you will probably have lost connection with your imagination. Read More
PRACTICE: FROM OBSERVATION TO IMAGINATION
Use one of your senses to notice something—the color of the sky, the sound of a bird or a passing car, the taste of your coffee, or something else of your choosing. Now wait until that “something” is no longer present before you—or close your eyes, if you have used them to make your observations. And now, in your imagination, recreate whatever you noticed: see that particular blue of the sky, hear the sound of the bird or car, bring back the taste of the coffee. Read More
When you practice using your powers of observation, you make that faculty stronger. In the process, you also collect a lot of material that you can use in pieces of writing. As you gather your material, and live with it for a while, you will find your own ways of using it. (Don’t forget, though, that you don’t have to use it, if you don’t want to; the most important value of the practice of observation is to strengthen that faculty.) Here are a couple of ideas to get you started: Read More
You can do the basic practice of observation any time as you move through your life; you don’t have to write down what you notice. But after a while you will probably find yourself noticing things that you want to write down. Now you can engage in observation practice not just to strengthen your powers of observation but also to collect material for pieces of writing. The collecting you did in earlier lessons was what I call internal collecting —you collected material from inside yourself. When you collect material through observation, you are engaging in external collecting—collecting material from outside yourself. (You can do external collecting in other ways as well; you can find more details in How To Be a Writer.) Read More