Mythology with Erin

Adventures in storytelling

Tag: Story Lab

Week 10 Story Lab: Advice to Writers

Neil Gaiman’s 8 Good Writing Practices:

“Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.” 

Neil Gaiman

This is an especially tough one because it’s easy to get bogged down in the middle of a story, start a new and exciting project, and then leave the old one undone.

I love number 8:

“The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (that may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.”

Neil Gaiman

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling:

I love Pixar’s tips! Their stories are always so fantastic, and these tips are great for aspiring writers.

#5: Simplify; I love simplifying my work because I tend to make it too complicated in the beginning. I definitely combine characters often.

#7 Endings are really hard. I’m still uncertain about the ending of the novel I’ve been working on for 6 years/

#9 This is great advice for throwing in something unexpected!

#12 This is how we learned to brainstorm in my Destination Imagination club. We would throw out ideas and write each one down, but we’d force ourselves to keep going for a long time to come up with more creative, less obvious plans.

#17 is the reason I have a giant Word file on my computer labelled “Archived Scraps” that hasn’t been opened in years.

#20 I’m a big proponent of writing what you want to read. The first entry in my first writer’s journal is a list of things that I like to read about or find in stories like “Time travel, dreams, secret sanctums, witty banter, goofy friends, superpowers, sacrifice, sword fights, and monologues.”

John Grisham’s Do’s and Don’ts for Popular Fiction:

Write every day—This is pretty good advice but hard to follow. I tend to believe that as long as you’re writing something, even if it’s a journal or blog and not your actual Work-in-Progress, you’ll get better at writing.

I don’t like his advice about a thesaurus. I think a thesaurus is a useful tool, as long as you don’t go digging for the most obscure words possible. But vocabulary should be varied and vivid, and using a thesaurus helps with that.

Nanowrimo

I also took some time with this story lab to set up my November writing project. I’m really excited about it, and one thing I’m trying to do with my writing this year is not keeping it to myself. I can be very protective of my work to the point of being secretive, and I don’t think that’s healthy for my writing or for my ability to deal with feedback. So here’s a novel aesthetic that I created with Canva! The (current) title of the novel is Compass Point.

Image 1: Open, blank journal. Source – Pixnio.

Image 2: Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. Source – Hello You Creatives

Image 3: Compass Point aesthetic. Source – Made on Canva.

Week 6 Story Lab: The Power of Stories

Ted Talks: 

“The Danger of a Single Story” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Imaginary Friends and Real-World Consequences: Parasocial Relationships” Jennifer Barnes

I really enjoyed watching these two Ted Talks because although they are about different subjects, they made me think a lot about how and why we write. As a writer myself, I was especially intrigued and inspired by many of the points they made. 

In “The Danger of a Single Story,” the speaker says that we are very impressionable and vulnerable to stories, especially as children. In her case, the white British and American characters she read about as a child made her believe that all stories needed to be about these types of characters. I definitely agree with this psychological phenomenon, and I’ve experienced it myself, though not on nearly a sad and unfortunate level as this speaker. Jennifer Barnes asks in her talk how dangerous it is if there are a disproportionate number of stories about boys/men in our world, and this reminded me a lot of my childhood. I read a lot of “boy books” (fantasy, sword-fighting, science fiction, etc.) growing up, and it led me to believe, in a childlike way, that people who were strong, courageous, fighters, and “cool” had to be boys. Because of this, I would always pick the male avatar in video games, and when my friend–who was very similar to me in this way–and I would go on pretend adventures, we would pretend to be boy characters. I’m so glad I eventually grew out of that, and similarly to Adichie, found books that were able to broaden my mind by depicting strong and well-developed female characters.

The gist of this is that while we sometimes say we read to experience new ideas, places, fantasies, etc, we are drawn to stories with people and situations that we can identify with. There’s a huge movement within the YA (young adult) fiction world where women, people of color, international authors, etc. are having huge success and support because people have finally realized that diversity is what we need and want in stories: so we can see ourselves in our stories. This is why Black Panther was so enormous. It’s why The Hate U Give by Angie Miller has built a brick-and-mortar home at the top of the NYT Bestseller List and ALREADY has a movie coming out. And–my personal favorite–it’s why Nigerian author Tomi Adeyemi’s book based on Nigerian myth and culture, Children of Blood Bone has been so successful that Jimmy Fallon picked it as his summer reading book. (I highly recommend this book, and if you want a more in-depth discussion of why I love it and why you should read it, check out my review of it over here!)

I laughed out loud when Adichie said that she thought writers had to have a terrible childhood, so she started inventing horrible things her parents did to her. It was funny because as a writer myself, I’ve experienced that stereotype and that bit of angst when you realize that your childhood was actually quite wonderful. 

Jennifer Barnes’ talk was fascinating because I’ve always been interested in the psychological reasons behind storytelling. After all, writing and becoming invested in fiction doesn’t make much sense when you really think about it. In fact, there are a lot of people who think it is a waste of time. I was interested to learn about parasocial relationships, and I was shocked by my own reaction to her thought experiment: Do you feel more grief for the death of a fictional character or an acquaintance? I was also surprised to see the stark difference between males and females in her results. I wonder why we see such differences–is it caused by an inherent difference between men and women, or is it something conditioned?

Overall, these Ted Talks really made me think about why we tell stories and why those stories are important. I can’t wait to apply this knowledge within my own writing, to ensure that I’m not just writing a “single story.”

Image 1: Girl reading a book. Source – Pixabay.

Image 2: Girl reading a book with a blindfold. Source – Pxhere.

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