Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Eve Thoughts

Lake at Miami Whitewater Forest, Hamilton County OH Park, November 2013
"On the banks of the James River, a husband erected a tombstone in memory of his wife, one of those 100 maidens who had come to Virginia in 1619 to marry the lonely settlers. The stone bore this legend: 'She touched the soil of Virginia with her little foot and the wilderness became a home.'"--Eudora Ramsey Richardson

The power of a tiny step...
The power of a kind word, of an outreached hand...
The power of a grateful heart, of enduring hope...
The power of love.

Maybe it all starts so small.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 22, 2013

10 Branches of Narrative's Tree

image courtesy of
“If in the first chapter a hurricane is going to blow down an oak tree which falls through the kitchen roof, there's no need to first describe the kitchen.”— James Thayer

Narrative, simply put, is story--the trunk of the writer's work. For some reason, I got to thinking about this word the other day and decided to check it out--explore the word's roots and see where such an adventure might take me. I found myself climbing branch to branch, ten in all:

1. Narrate: to tell the story of (from the Latin narrare relate).

2. Narration: the act of telling a story.

3. Narrator: a person who tells a story.

4. Narrative Arc: the structure of story. This is often described as that of a three-act play--a beginning, a middle, and an end. Narrative arc is also often pictured as a bell curve: "It starts at a point on the lower left hand side of a graph, rises in a curve to a peak, and then drops back down again." (Robb Grindstaff). In this image the story is shown progressing from introduction and setting of the stage (beginning) through conflict and complications (middle) to the story's climax, denouement, and resolution. This is also referred to as narrative structure.

5. Narrative Authority: grounding the character in authenticity and context. Nancy Lamb in her book, The Art and Craft of Storytelling, calls this anchoring. Anchor your character in time and place, she says, otherwise they won't be able to come to life. Research for authenticity. Employ the use of all five senses. Know your setting. Things like that.

6. Narrative Continuity: orienting the reader in time and space. Lamb addresses this as well: "Whatever strategy you use to increase suspense, always remember to maintain the narrative continuity of your story by orienting the reader in time and space. When you reconnect with the main plot, include a prompt about where you are." Lamb's example is a character named Lia who is on a ladder. While there she has a flashback. But the author doesn't leave her there. Lia then "grips" the ladder, bringing her back to the reader's present.

7. Narrative Threads: the storyline or, in other words, plot threads. "A narrative thread (Wikipedia) refers to particular elements and techniques of writing to center the story in the action or experience of characters. The narrative threads experienced by different but specific characters are those seen in the eyes of those characters...each thread of which is woven together by the writer to create a work." Lamb weighs in here, too. "If yours is a book," she says, "that has required lots of research, make certain your story doesn't take a back seat to the facts and figures you include. Otherwise your narrative threads will be overwhelmed by details and your story will be lost along with your reader."

8. Narrative Voice: your natural tendencies in storytelling. This definition comes from Joseph Bates in his book The Nighttime Novelist, quoted by Roseann Biederman in the Writer's Digest article, "How to Find Your Narrative Voice." In the article Biederman says, "A strong narrative voice gives your fiction a distinctive flavor and makes it stand out in a slush pile. But many beginning novelists struggle with finding their narrative voice." She continues by quoting Bates, "You may already have an understanding of your natural tendencies in storytelling; if so, wonderful. But if not, let me reassure you that those tendencies are there, that your own voice is waiting, and wanting, to emerge...(but) it's a process of trial and error. Write without overthinking what happens, and take note of what patterns you see emerge in your work that might suggest your natural strengths in voice."

9. Narrative Clutter: too much detail resulting in confusion for the reader. Ansen Dibell in his book Plot makes some good points on this subject. For example, "Don't mention the names of any characters who aren't vital to the scene or to the scene immediately following. Develop or introduce extra characters later, when the context calls for them and they have something to do. Don't have your entire cast of characters, and all their relationships, cluttering the narrative at the beginning."

10. Narrative Roots: writing from what you know, from where you come, and what you feel. "It is by the nature of itself that fiction is all bound up in the local," said Eudora Welty. "The internal reason for that is surely that feelings are bound up in place...Fiction depends for its life on place."

I'm sure there are many branches of Narrative's Tree I missed. Are there any you've explored, any you've swung from--or fallen out of? (!)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Forks in a Writer's Road

Abandoned bike seen on walk, November 2013
"I've always been interested in medicine and was pleased when my brother became a doctor. But after thinking seriously about that field, I realized that what intrigued me was not the science, not the chemistry or biology of medicine, but the narrative--the story of each patient, each illness. --Lois Lowry

I saw this bicycle one day last week while on my walk, and got to wondering about the paths the old bike might have been down, the stories it could tell. Who were its riders who might have felt breezes blow their hair while coasting downhill or gasped for breath going uphill? What forks in the road challenged them to explore--or change direction?

Newbery Award winner Lois Lowry (Number the Stars and The Giver) says she was drawn to writing because of people's stories. But first she considered entering the medical field. Interesting background on a talented writer (she's written over 30 books) showing the fork in the road she faced.

Lowry has also written about how she became a writer: "I was a solitary child, born in the middle of three, who lived in the world of books and my own imagination. There are some children, and I was this kind of child, who are introverts and love to read--who prefer to curl up with a book than to hang out with friends or play at the ball field. Children like that begin to develop a feeling for language and for story. And that was true for me--that's how I became a writer."

How did you become a writer? Did your life's goal start out one way only to change direction? Did you encounter a fork in the road, or did you hop on an imaginary bicycle, close your eyes, and pedal furiously down the road of surprise?

Hmmm, not such a bad idea. Except that maybe we should keep our eyes open...?


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Announcement: Free Critique Giveaway

Chasing ducks at the park, November 2013
Looking for a chance to chase your (writing) dreams? Dear Editor is offering a giveaway that just might get you a little closer!

In celebration of meeting her deadline for the first half of her new craft book, Writing the New Adult Novel: How to Write & Sell 'New Adult' Fiction, Dear Editor is giving away a free critique of the first 10 pages of your fiction manuscript. Entry deadline: November 7, 2013.

Though the deadline is nearing, there's still plenty of time. You qualify if your manuscript is fiction in any genre--adult, new adult, YA, MG. No children's picture books, though. The winner will be randomly selected and announced on November 8, 2013.

Dear Editor explains the critique: "In a critique the author receives general feedback about the manuscript sample's overall pacing, organization, narrative voice, characterization, point of view, setting, delivery of background information, adult sensibility (children's books only), concept, and the synchronicity of age-appropriate subject matter with target audience. It is not a word-by-word, line-by-line 'line edit.'"

Pretty neat, huh? Well then, if interested, hop on over to Dear Editor (here) where you'll find details on how to enter--and incentives to spread the word.

Chasing dreams and/or ducks--it's all a matter of getting closer to the goal, right?