Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Storyteller

This past week, I had several conversations with a dear lady regarding telling, point of view (POV) and distance in stories. And as we chatted, I had one of those monumental moments of clarity, and I was able to explain the difference between showing a story and telling it.

It helped that she is, I'm told, a fabulous storyteller. Not just a write-the-story-on-paper storyteller, but a, get a fire going in the fireplace, gang, and gather round. I have a tale to tell storyteller.

How did this lead to my monumental moment? Because, I soon discovered, she wrote her novels as she told her stories--with a lot of telling. This was the focus of the conversation, and the resulting epiphanies. Epiphanies I'm happy to share with you.

So let's lay some groundwork. What is a storyteller? According to Merriam Webster, a storyteller is a teller of stories. A relater of anecdotes. A reciter of tales (emphasis mine). What do each of these definitions have in common?


Not to say that's wrong, despite what we're taught. Sweeping dramas that occur over the course of decades and science fiction stories benefit from summarized telling. And telling is essential to bedtime or fireside-type stories because storytellers must fill the reader in on a lot of details in a short amount of time. However, in the case of the latter, the listener benefits from voice inflection, facial expression, gesture, and tone of voice in both the narrative and parts that are acted out.

Let's look at an example. In an episode of I Love Lucy, Ricky tells Little Ricky a bedtime story using these techniques:

Now imagine Ricky records that same story (in English) on paper exactly as he told it. Gone would be the awe and fear in his voice, and his skipping around the room as he showed Red's journey. Instead, he's telling the reader what Red is doing. When she's confused. What she said. When she's afraid. He tells it all.

Now, instead of writing it down, pretend he acts it all out. He no longer tells anything. No, "once upon a time a little girl named Little Red Riding Hood walked through the woods to visit her grandmother." Instead, he skips across the room holding a basket. Looks at Grandma with curiosity and points to her teeth. Throws up his hands when frightened. That, my friend, is a play. There's motion and color, and because of it, we're drawn into the scene. We watch the action, and then the reactions. We're engaged.

Novels are a mix of both. A story in which action, reactions, and dialogue are shown, but with narrative portions that either state the character's feelings and movements (frowned upon in this sensory age, but it still occurs) or serves as the character's thoughts and observation. In other words, Internal Monologue. The first informs us. The second engages us.

That's because the first creates distance and the second helps close that distance with what we call a deeper POV.

I'll continue that line of thought in my next post.

But before then, why is all this important?

This morning, while riding my exercise bike, I watched a recorded episode of Paula Deen's cooking show. At the end of the show, the scene transitioned to Paula's trimmed green lawn and big back porch. The table overflowing with food and fellowship, the colorful flowers, and the charming white railing surrounding the porch looked so picturesque and inviting, as the family enjoyed their picnic under the eaves, protected from the rain, I grew wistful, wishing I could experience the same.

It drew me in, and that would not have happened if Paula had stood in her kitchen and told us about that moment instead of showing us. That wistful desire to experience a charm lost in this world, and a hope for the future, is what readers want from front porch fiction. And that's what we need to give them.


Copyright 2012. Do not distribute without permission.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Tasty Tropical Treat

Before I start on The Storyteller, let's talk food. Food is an important element in front porch fiction because food is a wonderful addition to friend and family gatherings. While recently in California, I tasted this simple-to-make treat. A friend called it Ambrosia Light. I call it delicious.

1 can Mandarin orange slices
1 can pineapple chunks
1 cup coconut (I love Bakers)

Drain fruit
Toss three ingredients together
Serve chilled

Monday, February 20, 2012

Back Home

Goodness this place is dank and dusty. Time to open windows and let the sun brighten dark corners.

I'm sorry I've been away so long, but I've been grieving the loss of my blog. Not this one. No, this poor blog was pushed aside as I coped with my inability to update Carolina Towns and Trails on a regular basis. Thanks to ridiculous gas prices (it's time to start traveling by train) and distance from our current location, we're no longer able to explore charming towns, winding trails, and the unique geology and natural communities that make the Carolinas the special places they are. At least not as frequently as we once did. Nor take photos of it all. And instead of sitting on the front porch commiserating with friends, I sulked.

I've finally reached the acceptance stage so tonight, I clicked on the "Blogger" button on my toolbar and was pleased to see that while I haven't updated CT&T in over a month, people are still visiting the site and reading about outdoor destinations around the Carolinas. Salve to my Carolina soul.

So now it's back to writing. During this past month, I've taken my own advice and readied my work for contests, and while critiquing contest submissions for others, I found the subject of my next blog, so that's coming up this week.

It's good to be back. I've missed the view.