What is Story?…First Thoughts…

My recently published novel is dedicated to my sister.
It’s a tale of love in search of itself—heart to heart, mind to mind—a conversation we fell into nearly all the days of our life. My spiritual heart diminished when all talk between us died. When the stories grew silent, the light of my world dimmed to darkest gray.
A month before the terrors of Nine-Eleven, I had grown numb to the living world.
Words failed me, because I could feel nothing.
Gradually those words took shape and found space on the page. The novel rose from grief to continue our shared conversation of life and love and joy.

When I was a kid I loved to visit the library, a place filled with all sorts of books and stories. The library was a magic carpet ride, taking me to places beyond the Guasaco house and my Irish-Italian (therefore Catholic) family. At seven I carried picture books home to read stories to my younger siblings. I love the colors, the art, and the wonderful stories in picture books.

Not all the books were story books, but all books held the promise of story. Photo essays of the war which took my father to sea, or fashion spreads for the average housewife of 1950’s, or children’s word books presented half-told stories. Picture strings forming narratives for which my young mind had no assembly code.

I was finally weaned off of picture books when my best friend, Linda, introduced me to Nancy Drew in sixth grade. Confined to home for two months while my broken leg healed, my mom plied me with her current Book-of-The-Month-Club selections, Moby Dick and Jamaica Inn. The only pictures were on the book jackets, promising adventures on the high seas, and mystery at an old seaside inn. I don’t think Mom saw past the book jacket. Sure, the words were familiar, a little reach beyond my phonetic reading range, I had no idea what they were trying to say. Nancy Drew was the perfect antidote.

I read through all twelve of the Nancy Drew books in our school library. These were the 1930’s editions with one full-plate picture by the title page, and two more pictures in the middle, to nurture my story need. Eventually I began to feel the story in the words and images formed in my head. I was now seeking out chapter books for the story images they imprinted on my brain. By the end of the sixth grade I was ready, with encouragement of Miss Shafsky our student teacher, to write a story about a lion stepping down on the ramp of a moving van. The image came from a Lyon’s Moving ad. I supplied the story.

Before George Lucas broke through the techno-physical world with the heart-rendering, audience-grasping Star Wars, story was a difficult topic to teach. An aspiring writer was told she either had it in her or she didn’t. This simply was not true.

Nowadays you find the notion of story being taught broadly across the creative thinking spectrum from memoirs to copy writing, to creative non-fiction and screenwriting. To film-making in general. In science and technology, story helps the young students transform abstract ideas to concrete images in the mind. An image presents a possibility. And once that possibilty is planted, the mind seeks opportunities to expand the threads of neurons attached to the first image to expand the idea and grow knowledge.

After the lion story, I wrote a lot of fictional narratives and creative nonfiction pieces. When I dared into the realm of publishing, agents and editors reading my work cautioned me. Although my writing was “nice,” I had “storytelling” issues.

More about that journey in my next blog.    Meanwhile…

Consider your own experiences with writing and with story. A clear understanding of your own habits and progress will help you move toward your desired goal.

  1. Articulate your writing goals. Write them down or type them up.
  2. What has brought you to this page? What has blocked you from moving forward?

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