Where the Story Comes In

June 20, 2013

You can begin your first draft like this:

Joseph stood on her front porch but didn’t knock. The wind as it was coming from the east, made his eyes squint.

She opened the door. Saw him there, and she nodded and smiled.

 In one way, it’s a nice way to start. You aren’t over using state-of-being verbs, like was or were, or the helpers words like as and had been, too much.

The verbs here are stood, knock, was, coming, made, squint, opened, saw, nodded, and smiled. But it is a lot of stage direction for the wind, Joseph and someone named she.

 ON second glance, you have to admit, these lines are mostly story facts. The ‘Where folks are’, the ‘What they did, movement wise’. There’s not a lot of storytelling here yet.

 

We aren’t given many suggestions about anyone’s emotions, or motivations, there’s no hints at why we should be watching these folks, yet. It seems like first drafts fall into the trap of ‘get the movements down first’. And they read like ‘story-notes’ more than they do first tries at storytelling.

What is Joseph feeling as he stands there?

What about the wind is so evocative that you felt it needs mentioning?

This she you are telling us about, what’s making her smile and nod at seeing Joseph?

 

Did you write up scene notes before you began writing? If you did, what kind of verbs did you use in those notes? Are your notes writing in strong, active verbs?

Or like this:

Joseph will be at the door. Mary will be glad to see him.

If you didn’t write up scene notes at all, you may be writing by accident.

 

Let’s say you did write up some notes about the scene. But they were very ‘will be’ style. How can we fix that opening now that it’s on the page?

 

Well, we can go back to questions like above, about emotions, or motivations, or reactions.

What is Joseph feeling as he stands there?

What about the wind is so evocative that you felt it needs mentioning?

This she you are telling us about, what’s making her smile and nod at seeing Joseph?

 

Ask yourself some questions about what you want to show us. Go beyond the telling us stuff of story-facts and movements. Get into the why of things.

            Joseph’s nervous that’s why he doesn’t just knock.

I’ll show that by how the wind makes him react.

Mary, at the door, won’t unlatch the screen, but she won’t be able to stop from smiling because he’s there.

 

Now you have something to work with for showing us the story behind these two folks at this door, on this porch.

 Look a this compared to what we began with:

Joseph stood on Mary’s front porch, feeling like a soggy morning paper, limp and forgotten there.  He wanted so much to be braver than he felt, but he couldn’t get himself to knock. The wind, from the east, felt like an icy finger poked into his ear, it made his eyes squint and tear. At least he told himself that was why his eyes felt wet.

She opened the door, surprised, but didn’t automatically reach for the screen’s latch like she would have yesterday. Though Joseph could see in her eyes, the secret smile as she nodded. Maybe there was hope after all

 By taking the original lines, asking the why behind it, and then using commas to expand your thoughts you end up bringing in the story to mix and mingle with your story-facts.

Joseph is feeling like a soggy morning paper, limp and forgotten there. This tells us there might be a problem somewhere.

The wind, an icy finger, poked into his ear, making his eyes squint and tear, is now nearly an inanimate character that makes Joseph react. The line that then follows makes sure we know there’s a problem here.

We then see Mary though Joseph’s eyes, not through the narrator’s eyes, this is a great way (reaction) to show rather than tell the reader stuff in a storytelling way.

Then, we see what Joseph’s thinking about when he sees Mary’s eyes. And we see that the problem might be solvable.

 

Story-facts into storytelling.

Try this type of questioning with your story-facts. What did you mean behind the movements of your characters?  Figure it out, add it to what you began with, and expand your stage directions.

Bring in the story.

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6 Responses to “Where the Story Comes In”

  1. Karlie Says:

    You explain it so clearly…I love how you use words. I hope I can do that one day. 🙂

    • ejrunyon Says:

      Thanks, Karlie,

      And as for the use of words, that final draft up there took four tries to get it at the place you see it. Time and effort at the craft is what did that ‘better writing’. Anyone can be taught how it’s done.
      ej

  2. darsword Says:

    This is thought provoking. Reblogging!

  3. darsword Says:

    Reblogged this on Darswords and commented:
    I liked E.J. Runyon’s ideas here. Thought I’d share.


  4. Thanks for dropping in.

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