Monday, July 28, 2014

THE SOURCE OF STORIES: Writing from experience and imagination

So far we've looked at the source of stories and how to begin them.  Today we'll look at how to tell a story.

You can write a story in any order you want.   You don't have to start at the beginning. Furthermore, you probably don't know what the beginning will be when you start writing.  Organizing, structuring, editing, revising come later, after you've got the whole story out on paper.  

Story is the causal connection between scenes.  Which brings me to the most important ingredient in any story: the scene.  If you don't have scenes, you don't have action; nothing happens.  Scenes are essential.


1. If it's important to mention, make it into a scene.

2. Establish a setting: get the characters in.

3. Create action among characters.

4. Have dialogue or internal monologue.

5. End the scene: get the characters out.

6. Do not name a characters unless she or he is important.

7. To build tension write short sentences.

8. Long sentences allow the reader to rest.

These guidelines apply to fiction as well as non-fiction.  


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

THE SOURCE OF STORIES: Writing from our experience and imagination

Last week we looked at where stories come from.  This week we'll focus on how to begin.  What do we do when confronted with the blank page or screen?  

Even if we have an idea of what we want to write, we need a place to start, we need a push.  Here are some possibilities:

* Prepare a list of one or two random words and use each one for a 5-minute free writing practice.

* Open a book at any page and take the first sentence as a prompt to begin the writing practice.

* Make lists of body parts, communal dinners, collective nouns, vestigial organs, things seen out the window, and any other subject.  

* Take a walk in your neighborhood and observe everything closely: the trees, the flowers, the houses, shops, people, cars, the sky. Notice the weather: is the wind blowing? is the sun shining? is the sky overcast?  What do you hear?  What do you smell?  After a 30-minute walk, go back and write.

* Open a drawer, any drawer, and list what you see. Then write about the stories that go with those objects: the baby spoon your daughter used when she was 2 years old, the can opener your mother gave you one Thanksgiving day because you didn't have one, the set of tiny silver spoons you found in an antique store.

* Talk to people.  When you're in line at a shop or in a waiting room, strike up conversations with strangers.  They'll tell you the most amazing things you can use to write.

* Eavesdrop.  I know it's not polite but you can find surprising materials. People say the darnedest things. 

After you've written for a week, go back and read.  Ideas for stories will jump out at you.  Take it from there.

Next week we'll look at how to tell the story.

THE SOURCE OF STORIES: Writing from experience and imagination
A workshop at The Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton, Chicago
Saturdays 10 to 12 noon, starting September 20
To register go to

Friday, July 18, 2014

THE SOURCE OF STORIES: Writing from experience and imagination


We need to ask ourselves these three questions: 

1. Where does our material come from?

2. How do we begin?

3. How do we tell a story?

Here are some answers for the first question:

Our material, our stories come from a combination of experience / bearing witness / imagination.  

Experience needs time and distance. We cannot write about an event, an incident, an experience right away. We need to allow time and distance to convert the raw materials into a subject matter.  We need to digest it first; then we can understand it so as to gain perspective, and only then we can turn it into a story.  

In this way the story will offer the reader not only facts and information but the understanding that comes from ruminating on the subject, the underlining meaning only contemplation and musing can provide.  And that's what the reader wants more than the story itself: the universal significance he or she can apply to her or his life.

What matters is HOW we tell the story, not what the story is. 
Bearing witness adds to the pondering necessary in any piece of writing.  And our imagination can do the rest.  It can fill in the blanks; it can find similar stories to draw upon; it can bring the ineffable, the surprise, making the story live on the page.

THE SOURCE OF STORIES: Writing from experience and imagination
SATURDAYS 10-12 pm
To register: go to

Monday, July 14, 2014

THE SOURCE OF STORIES: Writing from your experience and imagination

Whether we know it or not, whether we want it or not, we all write from our own experience.  Our stories are founded on the life we led and continue to lead, on everything we’ve learned in the process, and on the spaces in between.  Some writers take that material and relate it almost verbatim; others create very different worlds and characters.  In other words, some write memoir, others write fiction.  One of these essential elements is the writing of scenes – the building blocks of stories. 

Have manageable goals.
Establish a plan of action 
* Will you write every day? every other day? once a week?
* Will you write in the mornings, before getting up or in the afternoons? in the evenings before going to sleep?
* How much will you write? one page? a thousand words? for 15 minutes? 
* Find a journal or magazine or anthology with a deadline and work towards that goal.
Deadlines are extremely useful to make us write, produce a story or a poem or an essay.  That short piece can later become a longer work, perhaps a novel, or a collection of essays.
Stick with the plan
Institute a strategy whereby someone will remind you if you don't keep the planned schedule of writing.  For example, if you don't write one day, you'll have to call your friend and tell him. Or if you don't write one day, you can't watch any television the next day or you can't have dessert. Anything that will make you write rather than endure the consequences is good.
Reward yourself
When you have completed the writing project and submitted it or turned it into your writing group, do something fun, something you've been wanting to do or have or eat.  The next day start a new goal.
Keep writing
Next blog post: Second step.

Monday, July 7, 2014


Now that you have drafted your story or essay, you need someone to read it and give

you feedback:  

1.        A good piece of writing requires the following: 

-           a defined objective

-           a skillful use of language and style

-           a compelling voice

-           a workable structure

2.        Determine the audience you want to write for and your objective in writing to 


3.        Determine the theme of your piece: 

-           what effect are you trying to create on the reader?

-           what do you want to explore?

We all need readers to give us honest and straight-forward opinions on our writing. Join a class or form a writers group.  You'll be glad you did.

TUESDAY, JULY 29, 5:30 TO 9:30 PM