Daily Warm Up:You are a camp counselor. Make up a story that will scare the bejeezus out of your 8-10 year old campers.
Today’s class, and much of the language below is borrowed directly from Simone Poirier-Bures, and you can see her excellent article about it here.
First, we’re going to make a list. What does a good storyteller do? According to Poirier-Bures, a good storyteller:
- Uses suspense, gradually unfolding the story.
- Builds toward something.
- Shows instead of tells, so that the reader has to figure some things out.
- Juxtaposes bits of information instead of overtly explaining.
- Sets little scenes so the reader can visualize what’s happening.
- Uses some dialogue to make the reader feel somehow present.
- Shows change in a character instead of just announcing it, letting us in on the character’s thinking
- Sometimes uses a persona (it may be “I” speaking,but which of the many I’s that inhabit any person?)
- Doesn’t always begin at the beginning
- Grabs the reader’s attention
Then, I want to suggest that we use THOSE SAME techniques in writing creative nonfiction!
To practice, this, we are all going to write a story about this scenario from Simone Poirier-Bures’s life:
I had a Siamese cat I adored whose name was Caspar. He was partially declawed, but we let him go out anyway because he loved being outside, and we live in the country where there are lots of places for a cat to hide. However, Caspar ended up getting killed by a pair of neighborhood dogs. For a long time I grieved his loss. Some months later, one of the culprit dogs, Nicky, followed me on one of my walks. I was still very angry with the dog and didn’t want it following me, but by the end of the walk, after I’d spent an hour reflecting on both the dog and my cat and the nature of dogs and cats in general, I had forgiven the dog.
These are just the bare bones of the event.
Your job is to IMAGINE that this is your own experience and consider how you might write about it. Transform this small event into a vivid, compelling story, using the list of techniques we generated…without departing from the facts you know. There are four specific things you can try that will likely help:
- Decide where in the “story” to begin
- Decide what tense to use (pros and cons of both present and past tense)
- Come up with a hook–and inventive way to get the reader’s attention
- Frame the story so that you’re teasing the reader along rather than disclosing everything up front.
Tomorrow we’re going to share what we did and how we did it, as well as look at Poirier-Bures’s version of the story.
Spoiler: Her version is four pages.