March 21, 2005
Excerpts: A Whole New Mind: Story Portfolio
Write a Mini-Saga
Writing anything is hard work. Writing a short story is really hard work. And writing a novel, a play, or a screenplay can take years. So go easy on yourself by writing a mini-saga. Mini-sagas are extremely short stories--just fifty words long...no more, no less. Yet like all stories, they have a beginning, a middle, and an end. London's Telegraph newspaper has long sponsored an annual mini-saga contest--and the results show how much creativity a person can pack in exactly fifty words. Try writing a mini-saga yourself. It's addciting. [Here is one example to hook you]:
by Jane Rosenberg, Brighton, United Kingdom
Joey, third of five, left home at sixteen, travelled the country and wound up in Nottingham with a wife and kids. they do shifts, the kids play out and ends never meet. Sometimes he'd give anything to walk away but he knows she's only got a year and she doesn't.
Get One Story
Reading short stories is a fine way to sharpen your story aptitude, but how can your find the good ones withour poring through dozens of highbrow literary journals? One answer: Let Maribeth Batcha and Hannah Tinti do the shifting for you with their innovative publication, One Story. One Story delivers exactly what the title promises. Every three weeks or so, Batcha and Tinti send subscribers...one story. It's printed as a pocket-sized booklet that's easy to stick in your pocket or toss in a bag. The stories are all great. And there's a elegant simplicity to reading a single story all by itself--rather than jammed between a bunch of other stories or wedged between a ten thousand word article about Kazakhstan and a review of the anniversary edition of Jude the Obsure in the New Yorker. I've subscribed to One Story for a few years now--and given subscriptions (a mere $21 per year).
Read These Books.
The best method for heightening your appreciation for Story is just reading great stories--particularly the archetypal stories found in Aseop's Fables; Greek Nordic, Native American, South Asian, and Japanese myths; the Bible; and Shakespeare's plays. But if you're looking for a broader view of Story itself, the following three books are must reads.
Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee--Even if you don't plan to write the next big screenplay, McKee's bbok is valuable reading. It explains the basic structure of the cinematic story--from how characters drive narrative to the twenty-six different types of story genres. At the very least, this book will change the way you watch movies.
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud--People laugh at me when I say this is one the best books I have ever read, but they just don't get it. Scott McCloud's masterpiece (yeah, it is) explains how comics work--how the stories unfold, how the pictures and words work together, and how readers supply much of the meaning. And get this: McCloud wrote it in the form of a book-length comic. Amazing.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell--Campbell's book introduces the "hero's journey," something that every aspiring writer--not to mention, any self-actualizing human--ought to understand. For another avenue into Campbell's mind, look for his famous late-1980's interviews with Bill Moyers, which are available on CD, DVD, and video. A collection of Campbell lectures and writings is also available from the foundation established in his name.