Home > Writing and Poetry > Enthusiasm, Conviction, and Storytelling

Enthusiasm, Conviction, and Storytelling

David Macinnis Gill talked yesterday about being a writer and what he felt any writer should do. He said, “The greatest achievement of any writer is to tell a story that people enjoy enough to retell. Hopefully, the reader will be entertained, as well as informed. Anything more than that is gravy… Write the best story you can. Write with passion and conviction.”

I ask all those writers out there these questions. How do you know that you’ve written your best story? How do you know when something you’ve written will have an impact on the reader that causes them to recount it to another person?

Is the story worth telling to another if it is haunting? Truman Capote would have thought so, I’ll bet. He deliberately chose those stories which would haunt a person for years. One of my friends wrote a story this past month which will haunt some people for quite a while; a love story where the main character dies for the love of another, dies for reunion.

Her piece used few words as stories go. It lived on raw nerves and starkness. It drilled into the reader’s mind with the sharpness of a scalpel and left in its wake a yearning for more.

By all accounts it left each reader with the same feelings, the same longings. That was a good story, and to date the best of hers I’ve seen presented. She eclipsed herself for retellings will happen over this one, people will discuss it and its pros and cons. It will always leave the reader with a sense of loss; a loss of more story, more time to savor each phrase and paragraph before arriving breathless at an end that comes too quickly while having taken a lifetime to get there.

This young writer has many years to find her stride. And I will be watching her for she hasn’t corralled her talent quite yet. She is close, though.

So, a haunting tale can cause a reader to retell it. How about one that leads the reader in one direction and then spins through a one-eighty to end someplace unforeseen? Mysteries do that all the time. But what divides the Agatha Christies from the Jane Does?

Does the plot, the twists, the characters each bring about the retelling catalyst? Is it one or another of these, or does it take all three?

And how about plays? Do they count in the storytelling game? How does “Harvey” manage to hold audiences in each generation with the same humor, the same sweetness and quirkiness, the same corniness? “What about Arsenic and Old Lace?” The movie versions of these plays hold the audience just as completely.

What is the universal formula that these pieces bring to the reader or viewer? The one thing that each of these demands is the emotional investment of the watcher, either in word or on stage. The humor is part slapstick, part misdirection. Cleverness plays its own role.

“Arsenic…” compares to The Three Stooges in some of its staging and routines. Up the stairs with Teddy, down to the basement and through the parlor with the aunts and the bodies. Who would ever have thought that serial killers would be funny?

“Harvey” plays to a man’s invisible friend who worries one woman to the brink of commitment; mental ward, that is. Children enjoy “Harvey” as much as adults for they, too, can relate and find the humor.

The play uses an average man, a kind and gentle man, to express the foibles and idiosyncrasies of the human condition. Also, it plays on the preconceptions we all exhibit during our lives. It forces us to laugh at ourselves as much as “Arsenic…” does and is equally easy to retell.

I don’t know how many of us have one of these icons of the theatre or novels considered great within our capabilities. I do know that I possess the enthusiasm to find out as Stephen Eliasson would say. And I have passion about what I’m interested in as David would request.

I’m also willing to bet that if you’re a writer who sits down every day and puts words together for the sake of their sounds, you also have passion and enthusiasm and at least one great story in you that’s just right for the retelling.

All of us have one plot line that haunts us to some degree or another. We each have one dream that we can’t quite shake; a dream that woke us years ago and continues to impress itself on the back of eyelids occasionally without advance notice. Have you tried to get your dream down on paper yet? Have you closed your eyes and allowed yourself to slide back into that feeling that flows with the images. Can you speak while sitting and viewing?

If you can, turn on the tape recorder and record what you’re seeing, all the colors, the smells, the feel of the air currents, the sounds of the surrounding environment. Tell the recorder about the inhabitants of this dream; their names, descriptions. Tell that recorder everything you can possibly squeeze from that one trip into your unconscious, which produced this moving picture for you sometime before.

Do the same with that plotline that you can’t quite let go of; the one that lingers at the edge of your vision tempting you with flirtations. Make use of something that may have been sent to you with a terrific story attached. Give yourself permission to enjoy this process.

When you return, you might just have that great story that will linger in people’s minds and on their lips. That’s way too easy, you say. Not really. For when the mind relaxes, unforeseen connections are made, new twists swirl amid the formulated lines of pursuit. You could surprise yourself with the outcome. Give it a try. Practice every day for only ten minutes, if you have but a little time to spare. Take what you discover, mix in some enthusiasm, sprinkle in some conviction, and come up with a marvelous new entree for the reading world.

Tomorrow I’ll be sitting down with Billy Burgess to talk about children’s stories and how to move in this new market conscious business. I hope all of you will return to see what Billy has to say. Until then, a bientot,

Claudsy

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