Creativity in Story Telling
Story, story, story. What is the story of your life? What is the story of the breakfast you had this morning? Or the story in your heart you have dreamed of satisfying all your life but fear you never will? In creative writing, stories are the big deal we come to the fountain for. Maybe it is an artificial limitation of sorts, but a story is a container that truly can hold almost anything. A dream, a vision, a formula for car wax, a birth, a death, the path of an atom, you name it. In our universe, if it cannot be described by a story, for human beings it does not exist.
This article is about creativity and creative energy, so story analysis, which can be rather dry, may not be the all-in-all of your process. The student of stories can learn all about telling stories as written works: plot, character, dialogue, theme, description, point of view, and so on. Creatively, because writing is a solitary, perhaps less-than-dynamic activity, your energy flow is like a craftsman building a house or a desk of wood: You have to measure and cut, design and plan, and fit the pieces together like a puzzle; and you have to do all this within the broad confines of what supposedly makes great stories work well.
Suppose someone is in the business of selling people stories he or she writes on dried banana peels. One might question the wisdom of such an entrepreneur. The buyer may say, "Well, as a human being like yourself, Mr. Storyteller, I have the story of my own life and days to occupy me, and I can observe the stories of the lives of others, and things going on around me just as well as you, and I also have other sources of wonderful or maybe terrifying tales to keep me occupied. So, uh, what else have you got?"
For one thing, you can be creative and more fully alive or vital as an artist in inverse proportion to how attached you are to the current trends and mainstream wisdom of the cultural arts. In other words, how original will your stories be if you are just copying other artists doing the same thing as you? In writing for money, you want to be current and trendy, but what about just writing for yourself, like a diary or family history?
A lot of people in previous generations would keep a volume while on a journey, such as by wagon train across the Great Plains. It was written for other reasons, never intended to be published. But the creative self is at work there, too. Writing just for yourself or loved ones is a time-tested, true form of expression and devotion, and a special way to keep special memories. Great works have been produced this way, including The Diary of Anne Frank or the letters of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., written from jail. The captain's log that is kept on sailing ships (or starships, if you are a fan of television's Star Trek) can make some great reading, indeed.The creative contribution of the creative fiction writer is to imagine fictional events and situations others might learn from. This means you are making things up for your neighbor's benefit, similar to a teacher. In the news business or the legal world, this can be considered a crime. Like James Bond's license to kill, the poetic license of fiction is your license to thrill. One muse puts it this way:
"The dreamer awakes, The shadow goes by; When I tell you a tale, the tale is a lie. But ponder it well, fair maiden, good youth: The tale is a lie, what it tells is the truth." -- The Dreamer Awakes, Alice Kane, Broadview Press,1995.Courtesy of Michael Katz.
Most people are great at spinning a yarn, whether they admit it or not. For a great deal of storytelling, always go back to what is really going on: sharing details about something that happened, be it fictional or not. The best fiction seems true or believable, no matter how outlandish or fantastic. "Make me believe," is the request of the audience, and you may happily oblige.
In every case, though, it is the human connection, the act of sharing, that opens the floodgates of your creative juices. In the case of a diary or captain's log kind of writing, you are still writing for another person, maybe a distant descendant or family member or a military tribunal deciding the fate of a newly discovered planet. Malachai, the messenger, is your creative path; if you are well-treated, or the message-receiver has cookies and milk for you after your long journey, so much the better for you.
The best advice in learning to write stories is to learn the basics of plot, character, dialogue, theme, and so on. Then, once you have these ideas, apply them like a housebuilder uses a blueprint. You can be creative and free or whimsical within those guidelines, too, or even invent new story structures of your own. As you build your stories, however, never forget that the humanity of the creative act lies much deeper than in mere words; it is your heart and soul you are opening to the wide world for viewing, and this can be painful, cleansing, or joyful.
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