In June I will again join the Ozark Creative Arts Academy for high schoolers to teach some writing tools and story craft seminars. This year I plan to shape my talk out of the overflow of a conversation I had last year with Dr. Giltner and Dr. Cirilla at the Niagra Falls retreat.
It goes something like this:
Writing is a technology.
Storytelling is the craft.
Or said in another way:
Writing tools can never compensate for bad story craft.
Writing is the means by which we convey and record the mind and body and spirit of thought through language.
Storytelling is that language – the unique syntax and vocab that show the poetry that births new thought, new narrative, new sympathy with those who rejoice and mourn.
As I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve grown tired of the word story due to the way it has been abused in recent years by the culture industry. Nevertheless, it serves the point here: the conveying of imaginative meaning that first demonstrates and then proves a point without explaining it, typically through the pursuit of some interior goal or change.
Writing, however, is the way we record all of that. You can write through the various hierarchy of memorization in oral traditions, through scrawling on walls with chalk and blood and on pottery with scratches, through parchment and quill, letterpress and typewriter, phonograph and cinemograph, digital camera and blog. Each of these has restrictions (oral tradition is the most reliable but the most time consuming to keep straight while blogs crank stuff out quickly yet are historically unreliable) and those restrictions make it possible for us to envision different ways to communicate the meaning of what could hypotehtically happen.
Fiction and myth, you see, isn’t lying at all. It’s hypothesizing. That’s why science fiction predicates all scientific breakthrough: we need imagination to move us forward first into the hypotheticall so that we can deal with the roots of what’s really real, and truly bpossible.
Which means that the best thing you could ever do for your writing career is to get rid of your computer, your pen, your blog, your typewriter, your letterpress (if you’re like my wife) and start over with thoughts and naratives, storyweaving and the pursuit of goals by characters who both represent great ideas and are deep people with real pasts.
Figure out what it means to truly have varied forces of antagonism.
Figure out how to escalate the problems and resistance that get in the way of that goal, that desire, that misbelief that needs changing by the end.
Figure out just how they will adapt.
Tell the story to yourself outloud. Tell it to your kids. Tell it to your best friend.
Then try longhand again.
Maybe a typewriter.
And maybe, just maybe, you can open your word processor and boot up that laser printer.