To tell a story...is to create a world, adopt an attitude, suggest a behavior.
- John Shea
For example, fellow writer/illustrator Fred Koehler (who has a picture book coming out soon!) recently gave me his ticket to go to the Joyce Sweeney "Plot Clock" writing workshop in Tampa because something came up and he was unable to attend. So, there you have it, a "drop in your lap" opportunity to learn about writing and get better at storytelling. I met so many amazing authors this weekend, people who have written 200+ books, and others who have worked for 20 years to just debut their first book. Really inspiring!
Joyce Sweeney is an accomplished author, writing coach, and poet. She taught us all about the Plot Clock, which is similar to The Writer's Journey & Hero's Journey outline of how a story progresses.
We did several exercises together, such as brainstorming an entire story from scratch. That was so much fun! And the story turned out to be great, too! I think that was a big eye-opener for me, to see how you can develop a tale by making sure things progress and you hit the emotional highs and lows that the audience wants to feel. We analyzed a few picture books to see if we could find the Plot Clock elements, and they were in there!! (though, not all of the points, but the stories still worked).
Then we had some time to fit our own story ideas into the plot clock, and that was challenging but fun. I realized I had most of the points, but needed to still figure out many details. One of the great questions Joyce asked us was, "How bad can it get for the hero?" Try to answer that, and then think of something even worse. The hero has to struggle (age-appropriately, of course).
Writing is so mysterious to me, like art, and that is why I am drawn to it. I love that Joyce pointed out how our subconscious is way ahead of us, plotting long before we even realize what we wrote. As I read other testimonials from authors, that really seems to be the case.
The focus comes at random moments which no one can understand, least of all the author. For me, they usually follow great effort. To me, these illuminations are the grace of labor...After months of confusion and labor, when the idea has flowered, the collusion is Divine. It always comes from the subconscious and cannot be controlled. For a whole year I worked on The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter without understanding it at all.
- Carson McCullers
Also, this excerpt from C.S. Lewis on creating Narnia:
All my seven Narnian books, and my three science fiction books,
began with seeing pictures in my head. At fist they were not a story,
just pictures. The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying
an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in
my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about
forty, I said to myself: "Let's try to make a story about it."
I find it incredibly interesting that Lewis didn't have the story first, but rather the pictures without any form. How reassuring! My head is full of pictures. I'm wondering if this is the most common process for creatives? It probably varies a little each time, but pictures do have the power to incite a narrative. With this in mind, I've started collaging magazine, newspaper, prints, flyer clippings into my giant moleskine sketchbook and use them to dream up ideas. Someone once said that innovation is simply combining old things into something new. It will be exciting to see what kind of interesting stories grow out of the randomness.