The Study (and Fun!) of Storytelling

We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.

                                Albert Einstein

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I’ve been studying the craft of storytelling since I was 7 years old.

I’m only one sentence into this blog and I’m already going on a tangent, but here’s a quick story: I decided to be a writer after reading a Bobbsey Twins book straight through, completely absorbed from the first page to the last. I distinctly remember closing the book and thinking, “I want to do that.” So I try not to sneer at any book that captures a child’s attention. After all, a completely commercial book — probably produced by a ghost writer in two weeks or less — changed my life. (Here’s a great article about a writer for the Hardy Boys series with one of my favorite endings ever.)

Okay, back to the study of storytelling. The word “study” doesn’t accurately reflect just how interesting it is to think about how stories get made. Here’s what my study has looked like so far:

First, the formal part:

  • I earned undergraduate degrees in journalism and English from the University of Texas-Austin, and a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Southern California. Six years of reading, writing and learning. Priceless.

Next, the professional practice:

  • I’m a professional editor and writer (most of my career has been in magazines). Wrangling words on a consistent basis — while facing deadlines —  taught me that a blank page should be respected, but not feared.

Finally, the fun:

  • I’ve taken classes in playwriting and screenwriting to learn more about developing character through action and creating propulsive plots. It’s thrilling, terrifying and unbelievably educational to listen to an audience’s response in real time.
  • I like to read screenplays — it’s a great way to learn about defining characters quickly through action and dialogue. Go Into the Story offers hundreds (maybe thousands) of writing tips as well as scripts that are free and legal to download.
  • Watching or listening to behind-the-scenes bonus features on DVDs can be fascinating (especially if the director and screenwriter sit in a room together and talk about how the story morphed as the move was made).
  • I’ve read dozens of “how to write” books, but most of the best tips come from the writers themselves, so I glean everything I can from author profiles, podcasts, radio interviews, and speeches.
  • And I read. Mostly, I read for the sheer joy of the story. But now I find that I’m taking mental notes as I turn the pages — observations about how other authors have created fictions that delight and surprise.

My plan is to share some of the random tidbits I’ve gathered (with a tip of the hat to the Bobbsey twins!)  I hope that others will add their discoveries as well!

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