Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Story Telling VS. Writing A Story – Part 3: Similarities and Differences... Clearly and Succinctly

Story Telling VS. Writing A Story – Part 3: Similarities and Differences... Clearly and Succinctly

This is the last in this series. As promised, this is short… and hopefully sweet.

Similarities

Both telling and writing present a story. While that sounds trite, it is important to remember that the goal of a teller and a writer is the same: Get the audience engaged in the tale and wanting to see how it ends.

Differences

When telling a story, tellers animate the characters. Good storytellers modify both their voice and physical mannerisms for different characters. Listeners visualize beautiful women, strong tough men, children, non-native speakers, and scores of other types through the skilled delivery of spoken words by the teller.

A story writer must convey those same differences but the pages upon which they write limit a writer’s expression. Good story writers build, and then animate, characters. But they do it by describing not demonstrating.

Ultimately, readers and listeners form mental images of characters in each case. The better, more lifelike, those images, the more a reader wants to know about the characters and the part of each in the story.

A storyteller can read her/his audience. Good storytellers are always scanning the crowd. As soon as they teller sees or senses part of the listening audience slipping away mentally, the teller can change what he/she is doing to reel the listeners back in. A sudden clap of the hands emphasizing a door closing or a gunshot or mimicking the clap by a character will return the attention of all but the most reticent listen to the story.

A story writer must depend on her/his wordsmithing to keep a reader engaged. Boring is bad in writing. Confusion is bad in writing. Engagement is the goal of a writer.

A crowd of listeners can bring back those losing interest by their group dynamic. You’ve probably tuned out of some conversation only to be sucked back in because you wondered what everyone was laughing about. Storytellers use group dynamics to their advantage. Conversely, if a listening audience is restless, it can pull those trying to listen away from the story. Reading an audience is a finely honed skill in good storytellers.

Writers have no crowd to distract. But, the lack of crowd means that the only thing keeping a reader engaged is the writing. Writers have no group dynamic

Moral

While a story is a story, whether written or spoken, if you ignore the conventions of either as you write or speak your audience won’t come back for more.

Primary Lesson Learned

As a writer, it is important to provide your readers with insights into your characters that they have no way of obtaining without your written words. Include:
  • thoughts, insights, and quirks as thoughts or in descriptions.
  • descriptions of important historical information on your characters.
  • examples of baggage your characters carry that impact their current actions.



More on this idea in my…


Next blog: Thoughts After My Longest Edit… Ever!

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Science Guy’s Almanac #9: A Salute to Teachers Re: 10/10/2015

A Science Guy’s Almanac #9: A Salute to Teachers Re: 10/10/2015


On Saturday, October 10, of this year, the Cox Cable’s Channel 4 in San Diego broadcast the annual Salute to Teachers. This black-tie event recognizes all of the San Diego County teachers who were selected as Teacher of the Year in the school, and then in their school district.

District winners’ names and application materials were sent to the San Diego County Office of Education. There, four teachers were selected from the list of forty to be the San Diego County Teachers of the Year.

Those four are entered in the competition for California Teacher of the Year. The winner of that competition has a 1:52 chance of being named the National Teacher of the Year.

The Teacher of the Year program has been in place since 1974—my second year as a teacher. The Salute to Teachers celebration reached a milestone this year. 2015 is the 25th anniversary of that event.

In the early years of the Salute to Teachers, a variety of local celebrities hosted the gala. For nearly 10 years, Gabe Kaplan, best known as Mr. Kotter in the TV sitcom Welcome Back Kotter, was the host. Hosts of this year’s event were also media celebrities of a sort.

I was fortunate to be named as one of three San Diego County Teachers of the Year in 1985.



That year, the celebration consisted of attending a luncheon sponsored by the local chapter of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). I attended with my principal.
Before the luncheon’s keynote speaker, each of the three of us Teachers of the Year was asked to come forward. We received a plaque from the County Office and a round of applause.

Now, teachers submit videos of their teaching as part of the application process because advancements in technology allow a greater visual celebration. The Salute to Teachers features those videos along with live music performed by some of the award-winning choirs, vocal and instrumental ensembles, and other talented students from local schools. The MC is articulate. Winners are given time to speak.

All in all, the evening is a well-produced celebration of the teaching profession. Along with the sold-out Civic Center’s theater audience, several thousand people watch the event on their television sets.

What’s my point?
I am very happy when any teacher receives recognition for their contribution to the lives of young people. All too often, media emphasis is placed on disgraced teachers. Not nearly enough attention is given to those hundreds of thousands of dedicated professionals who put in countless hours beyond their contracted work days.

During this unpaid time teachers grade, plan, prepare, create, and seek new ways to inspire, encourage, and prepare their students for whatever comes into their lives. In addition to unpaid overtime, studies have shown the most teachers spend thousands of dollars from their own pockets on materials and resources that their students would not have without this investment.

Why do they do that?

Because good teachers want the best for their students. For an eye-opening look into this out of pocket expense, check out the Huffington Post’s September 2 article on this topic. Take a close look at the photos sent in by teachers. Look at the types of materials/resources they are purchasing. Very little of the items shown would be considered frills or frivolous purchases.

Education is a right reserved to each individual state by the Constitution of the United States. Each state determines curricula and budgets for their schools. Most of those decisions are made in state legislatures. A minority of those elected officials were/are teachers.


According to Table 2 from Membership of the 113th Congress: A Profile released in November 2014, 102 of the current members of congress list their prior occupation in the field of education.

         


As you can see, not all “educators” were teachers. It’s possible that a sizable number never taught in any public school. I suspect the breakdown of most state legislators would be close to these numbers. By the way, numbers presented in the highlighted bullet point do not match those in the table.

So what?

Only this. Most decisions made on educational issues are made by people whose primary exposure to the educational system in their constituency was as students. Many of the issues are decided based on which outside group—publishers, curriculum developers, special interest advocates—has the most clout and/or the most money.

Bottom Line

If you are a teacher: Be proud! Be prepared. Be approachable.
If you are a student: Let your teacher know how much you appreciate her/him.
If you are a parent: Find out what you can do to help your child be most successful in her/his class.

Parents, Teachers, and Administrators
I am co-author of Tune Up Your Teaching & Turn On Student Learning. This book provides insights and ideas for all three groups on how to help students be better thinkers and learners. It is available at Amazon or directly from me through Teachers Pay Teachers. I’ll be offering 15% off on the book during November and December.

Also, visit Engage In Thinking at www.engageinthinking.com for additional information and resources.

Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CRDowningAuthor
My website is: www.crdowning.com

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Story Telling VS. Writing A Story – Part 3: Similarities and Differences

Story Telling VS. Writing A Story – Part 3: Similarities and Differences

So, here we are in what was supposed to be the final blog on telling vs. writing a story. I have a confession to make. I was a story writer who wrote like a storyteller tells stories. For me, it was fine. I liked my stories. And, since most of my early writing consisted of short stories, problems arising from writing that way were minimized.

However, I’m now working on a significant detective novel: The 5th Page. and I have learned a LOT about telling vs. writing in the process of that editing and revising.

To illustrate what I’m talking about—and hopefully whet your interest in reading both the blog and The 5th Page—I want to begin with a before and after of one scene from As you read through these examples compare the two versions. Look for specific instances of what I describe between this paragraph and the story excerpts.

When I sent the first version to my publicist, Sherry Frazier, and I began a long series of telephone conversations about the topic of this short blog series and her ideas for necessary edits to my “finished” book. Her actual description of my 80,000-word manuscript was, “This is a great outline.”

Why did I change what I thought was finished?

I didn’t want to at first. As I listened to her go through the manuscript page by page, I wrote her comments in a page-numbered list. It took quite a while for me to accept much of what she was saying. My thoughts: My book was finished. It’s pretty darn good, too.

Fortunately, she went slowly. And I had time to “get over it” in terms of what she was trying to convey. I sent a sample rewrite of the opening of the book.

She said it was better, but…

I sent another rewrite of part of the opening. There was no way I was going to keep going back over the same scenes over and over. I wanted closure.

She liked the rewrite better, but…

After a second, and now a third, list of fixes to the manuscript, I’ve finally figured out what she wants…
and why!

Too often through my first drafts, the reader was left wondering who or why or when. Although much of those concerns were addressed in the conclusion, there wasn’t enough detail to keep the reader engaged.

As you read the two versions, which one built the most tension in you? My suspicion is the latest edit did. Which version had you caring the most about the characters? Again, I suspect it was the latest version, in which Mary’s fear is palpable. I suspect that, even in this short excerpt, you began to care about what happened to Mary.

You want your readers to care about your characters. When you revise, look carefully at your characters. How many of them just seem to be there to move the plot along? If that number is high, your readers will not engage in the story. Your book will not appeal to most of your potential readers.

By the way, my first thought was to title the latest edit, Final Edit. I did not do that. The reason is not that I’m hoping to revise it again. Rather my journey through this hard to learn lesson has taught me to slow down. I’m waiting until the whole manuscript is the latest version before I consider using final as a descriptor.



The Scene: Mary Carstairs has ratted out her boss in a drug syndicate. Sid Brewster, the drug supplier’s supplier, has contracted with Oscar “Big O” Briggs to eliminate her.

Original: Story Telling
About 7:30 two evenings later, Mary unlocked the door to room 245. She waited until she had closed and bolted the door before feeling around for the light switch. She snapped it up. Darkness remained.
"Figures!" Mary grumbled. She groped her way toward the kitchen.
She never made the linoleum flooring.
Strong hands grabbed her roughly from behind. One hand clamped tightly over her mouth. The fingers of the other dug into her waist. She felt herself being dragged to her right. She decided to relax and enjoy what she expected was coming. Fighting a rapist usually brought more pain and abuse than compliance.
"Quiet!" Her assailant spoke the single word as he uncovered her mouth. His right hand moved to her arm. The sound of something tearing aroused her curiosity. The curiosity passed quickly. A large piece of adhesive tape was pushed roughly over her lips.
Two rough hands ripped the clothing from her body. The same hands threw her naked form to the bed. She felt her muscles tense and forced herself to relax.
The end of a long piece of adhesive tape was wrapped around each wrist and ankle. The other end of each piece soon circled the posts of the bed before joining its partner on her wrist or ankle. She felt panic rising within her. This was not a simple rape.
"Sidney hopes you don't enjoy this at all," the voice taunted. She heard a zipper opening.
"But I'm sure I will.”
Latest Edit: Writing a Story
   Three evenings after she’d moved into the Royal Guard Hotel, Mary Carstairs once again unlocked room 245. She waited until she’d closed and bolted the door before feeling around for the light switch. She snapped it to the ON position. Darkness retained its grip on the room.
   "Figures!" Mary grumbled. This place is a DUMP with all capital letters. She groped her way toward the kitchen.
    She never made the linoleum flooring.
   Strong hands grabbed her roughly from behind. Oh, God! One hand clamped tightly over her mouth. Breathe, Mary, breathe. The fingers of the other dug into her waist. Crap! I know what’s next. She felt herself being dragged to her right. After an initial squirm, she let her body relax—as much as she could relax.  She understood that fighting a rapist almost always brought more pain and abuse than compliance did.
   Yep. He’s headed for the bed. This happened before… once. Stay relaxed and at least pretend to enjoy what’s coming. I’ll guarantee he'll never do this again. If I have to, I’ll find me a rabbi with a circumcision flint…
   "Quiet!" Her assailant spoke the single word as he uncovered her mouth. His right hand moved to her arm. The sound of something tearing aroused her curiosity. What the… Curiosity morphed into an infantile form of panic as a large piece of adhesive tape was pushed roughly over her lips. I don’t like where this is headed at all. All bets are off now!
   She beat her hands against her assailant’s chest. I hate you! I hate you! Let me go, you son of a b--! He continued as though she still hung limply. Her imprecations went unheard—the tape covering her mouth reducing them to meaningless noise.
   She tried to scratch his eyes. I’m not going down easily bas---! With a derisive snort, he grabbed both her wrists in one hand and squeezed. When she’d only winced at the pain, the attacker twisted both wrists to the right, slightly spraining them both. Oh, God! He’s going to break my arms!
   She willed her arms to relax, but that only fueled the sadist’s desire. He gave a final twist of his hand—and both Mary’s wrists—this time to the left. Oh, oh, oh! That hurts so bad! Mary felt herself involuntarily trying to fold herself into the fetal position. Stop! Body, please stop! He won’t like this! Don’t ball up! Another snort. He released his grip. Oh, thank you, God! But, when she tried to move her hands, pain knifed up her arms. Panic began to build. Help! Help me, please! I don’t want to die!
   Rough hands ripped the clothing from her body, leaving her entirely naked. This is no ordinary assault! How’d Brewster find me? I’ve got to get out of here! I’ll give you money! Help! Oh, God, please!
   The same hands threw her naked form to the bed. Before she could react, the male’s fully clothed body landed upon her. Push away! Get off me! She felt her muscles tense, but she didn’t move. This guy’s too big! I’m going to die! Think, Mary! Think! She forced herself to relax—a minimally successful gesture. Maybe I can wiggle out if I pretend to…
   One end of a long piece of adhesive tape was wrapped around each ankle and wrist. This guy’s done this before. No way this is the first time he’s lain on a woman while taping her wrists. Shockwaves of pain burned through the nerves up her arms. Don’t you know you’ve broken my wrists? Tears erupted from her eyes—and, for the first time in a long time, they were genuine. P-p-please don’t do this. P-p-please!
   She began to sob as—one by one—the other end of each piece of tape circled its own post of the bed before joining its partner on her wrist or ankle. Oh, God, no! This isn’t just an assault! I’ve got to get off this bed! During the fleeting existence of that thought, panic matured from an infant to a fully mature emotion within her. No! No! No! You can’t do this! I don’t deserve this! She twisted from side to side as she attempted to tear at least one of the tape-ropes from its bedpost.
   A flash of her past—Catholic school religious training—brought the prayer of the Rosary to her mind. At least she recalled parts of it. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
   "Sidney Brewster hopes you don't enjoy this at all," the voice taunted. She heard a zipper opening. "But, I'm sure I will.”
Mary prayed even more fervently. O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy. Dear Jesus, that’s me!
She tried to scream. I’ll tell Brewster I didn’t mean it! Please don’t hurt me! Oh, my God! I don’t want to die!
   Three sounds punctuated Mary's final earthly thoughts.
…The squeaking of bedsprings.
   Someone help me, please!
…The speaking of a name, “They call me Big O.”
   Help me, please! I don’t want to die!
   The attacker climbed off her and the bed. She squirmed trying to find the rapist. But, darkness still prevailed.
   Oh, God! Don’t let me die like th—
…The sound of a single silenced gunshot.
   The too short roller coaster life of Mary Carstairs was over.

Both versions of the scene have the same ending. Mary Carstairs is eliminated by Big O.

This blog is intended to help open your eyes to some new insight in the process of writing. I don’t expect a conversion to the idea by reading this one blog. It took me until I was a good distance into the second Frazier edit of The 5th Page before I really had a handle on what she was trying to get me to do to improve my writing. That was over nearly one month of back and forth communication and revision.

In the title of this blog, I promised similarities and differences. However, this post long enough. Two weeks from today, I PROMISE to list clearly and succinctly the similarities and differences between telling a story and writing a story.

Next blog: Story Telling VS. Writing A Story – Part 4: Similarities and Differences... Clearly and Succinctly

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