Laney College —English 10/210—Creative Writing—spring 2007—Weidenbach
Make a Story—just like that!
Commencement and Conflict
Start with a situation: A person walking along the sidewalk finds a roll of film.
Or start with a character: “My name’s Jim. I’m 35, I still live at home, and I sell office supplies.”
* Wherever you start, your story can progress if you ask, “What’s the CONFLICT?” (Conflicts are often described as “person v. person”, “person v. her/himself”, or “person v. nature/God/fate”.)
Obviously, a story works best if the characters and situation are interesting. But often our main concern is generating ideas in the first place. Start with ANYTHING—and DON’T JUDGE—just GET STARTED!
Like with clustering, your story-mind can really work fast!
Try ‘tracking’ some possibilities: Use a cluster or outline form to follow the thread of a possible story. If you find yourself thinking of DIFFERENT possibilities, then skip a few lines and build a thread that follows the new story idea. (Repeat as often as necessary!)
Get some story possibilities written down, then bounce your ideas off your group. See what the ‘group mind’ thinks would make a good story, and chase any ideas that seem interesting.
CHANGE and GROWTH
Keep in mind that the best stories show us how someone changes or grows. The girl in “Learning to Swim” stands up for herself, and it seems like maybe the first time she did so. The narrator of “Cathedral” resists an encounter with his wife’s friend, Robert; but Robert breaks through the narrator’s resistance, and leads him to a new way of thinking and feeling.
When developing a story’s ‘arc’, try to find ways to make your characters make decisions!
SHOW; don’t tell! SHOW characters—through action/reaction, speech (dialogue), other characters’ actions/reactions & speech. If necessary or stylistically fun, you can have your narrator ‘tell’ about a character. This is knows as exposition or authorial comment. It’s sometimes necessary, but always weaker than actions and speech, which let characters seem to reveal themselves. Leave the interpretation to readers!