A Poignant Story, Simply Told

In my daily ‘net wanderings I tripped and fell over the above ad from Thailand for a mobile phone company—which really doesn’t factor into the story at all—that serves as a prime example of simple story telling.

All the elements of dramatic structure are present. But instead of creating a long-winded post that most wouldn’t read, I’ve decided to take my own advice and keep it simple. Though not a poet, I wrote my thoughts on the subject in verse:

I have banged on ad nauseum in some previous post
About the best stories told are where less is the most
Abandon complex words you once deem so refined
As it tends to leave more than a few readers behind
Complication wasn’t missed or mourned when it died
As people pursued minimalism, a life more simplified
Leave the clutter behind and your work unpolluted
And remember the old adage:

I said I wasn’t a poet, now you see that it’s true, not only does mama know it, but my daddy do, too.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Screw the Fear and Write On

“Screw the fear.” — Jo Leigh

Be it anxiety over acceptance, concerns about misrepresentation, or indecisiveness on whether to delete or send out your latest labor of love and pain, fear has a nasty way of creeping into the writing process, and if you can use it to your advantage by allowing it to heighten your awareness and commit to the page the precise thoughts and ideas that need to be expressed, so much the better. It’s when fear snaps shut like a bear trap on your mind and prohibits you from pushing the pen on paper that’s the problem.

I would tell you to forget the fear, but we both know sometimes that just isn’t an actionable solution. The best I can manage is to share with you what works for me: I simply acknowledge it. I tip my hat to fear, slog through the uncertainty and self-doubt that it carries in abundance, and I write. To myself. For myself. I write without thought of sharing it with anyone, without the intention of submitting it for publication. Since the act I engage in is so personal and integral to my understanding the world around me, I refuse to let fear have any say in what or how I write. I write what I feel must be written. No one else has to agree. Because if I don’t write my mind, my view of the world perishes when I no longer exist.

It’s my marker. My proof I was here.

But, should you choose not to heed me advice, perhaps you’ll listen to those talented few, listed below, who are graced with a turn of phrase that far surpasses my own.

Sally forth and be fear ignoringly writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

1. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou

woolf

2. “Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

3. “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” ― Saul Bellow

4. “Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.” ― Neil Gaiman

margaret-atwood

5. “A word after a word after a word is power.” — Margaret Atwood

6. “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” ― Louis L’Amour

7. “Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences.” — Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

8. “One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book, give it, give it all, give it now.” — Annie Dillard

9. “The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.” — Anaïs Nin

10. “The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.” — Stephen King, On Writing

The Immortality of a Storyteller

“I am a storyteller.

In the course of my life, I will write something — SOMETHING, that will grow in the mind of a person who reads it. It will shape them. Perhaps while I live, perhaps a hundred years from now. SOMETHING I do will alter the course of their life. Perhaps it will be a tiny stone in a river, or perhaps it will be like a boulder. I will encourage them to love a bit more, or to stand against the darkness that haunts them.

Because of me.

Because I was a little brave one day. Because some morning a sunrise opened my heart, or my beloved kissed me as she never had before. I will, in some small way, shape the future. Shape the world.

This is my immortality.”

~ J.M. Guillen

We Live and Breathe the Power of Words

I watched the trailer for the documentary “Salinger” on YouTube without meaning to. It was one of those ad-thingies that pop up before the content you actually want to watch. Normally I click SKIP AD, but this time I’m glad I didn’t. The doc professes to be “An unprecedented look inside the private world of J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye.” and while I’m not the hugest fan of documentaries (a good deal of them are padded waaay too much to meet feature length requirements, in my opinion) I’ll probably give this one a go when it hits a theater near me.

But I digress…

The reason I brought this trailer up was because it spoke to me on the power words have to manipulate our emotions, provide the motivation to become better people and do great things, and sadly, sometimes to take us by the hand and lead us down darker paths.

You can never truly predict how someone will interpret your work, as words offer unique triggers in each of your readers’ minds. Ideas, concepts, situations, memories, actions, circumstances, feelings and thoughts vary as they flow from the subconscious mind to the corresponding emotional responses of the subject at hand.

I’d like to take a moment of your precious time and acknowledge the labors of wordsmiths by having them share their opinions on the power written words have over us all:

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

“We live and breathe words. It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone. They could be honest with me, and I with them. Reading your words, what you wrote, how you were lonely sometimes and afraid, but always brave; the way you saw the world, its colors and textures and sounds, I felt–I felt the way you thought, hoped, felt, dreamt. I felt I was dreaming and thinking and feeling with you. I dreamed what you dreamed, wanted what you wanted–and then I realized that truly I just wanted you.” ― Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Prince

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books. In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.” ― Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” ― Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?” ― Emily Dickinson, Selected Letters

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” ― George Orwell, 1984

“We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.” ― Alan Wilson Watts

“There exists, for everyone, a sentence – a series of words – that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words, that could heal you. If you’re lucky you will get the second, but you can be certain of getting the first.” ― Philip K. Dick, VALIS

“Words… They’re innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they’re no good any more… I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.” ― Tom Stoppard, The Real Thing: A Play

“It doesn’t matter if you and everyone else in the room are thinking it. You don’t say the words. Words are weapons. They blast big bloody holes in the world. And words are bricks. Say something out loud and it starts turning solid. Say it loud enough and it becomes a wall you can’t get through.” ― Richard Kadrey, Kill the Dead

“To see evil and call it good, mocks God. Worse, it makes goodness meaningless. A word without meaning is an abomination, for when the word passes beyond understanding the very thing the word stands for passes out of the world and cannot be recalled.” ― Stephen R. Lawhead, Arthur

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Stories Are the Creatures That Forage in the Wilderness of Our Minds

“Stories are the creatures that forage in the wilderness of our minds. Their claws pierce our curiosity, digging in deep to prevent our escape, as they force us into their maw, past razor sharp teeth of conflict.” —- Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Tell me a story.” the woman said, book opened to a blank page on her lap, graphite stick firmly in hand and at the ready. The reading chair in which she sat was, what appeared to my eyes, nothing more than a series of interwoven vines that had grown from the lush green carpet in the center of the room. This indoor library of hers smelled of petrichor, the scent of rain on dry earth, which would explain the moisture that dotted the spines of the books stacked in chaotic fashion on the recessed shelves lining the walls.

I — I don’t have any stories.” I shifted uncomfortably in a small puddle on the carpet—that was most assuredly grass—as the woman took in the sum of me.

Nonsense, everyone has stories, some more interesting than others, but they are stories nonetheless.” she said, gesturing with a nod for me to sit. “Everything is present for a story to exist: a teller, that would be you, and an audience, which would be me.”

My seat—a normal metal folding chair with padding—was as much out of place with the room’s décor as I. A reminder, no doubt, that although invited, I was still considered an interloper. The fact that the chair was bone dry despite the moist surroundings was of small consolation. I squirmed until I found the position that afforded the least amount of discomfort and said, “All right, then… I don’t know how to tell a story.”

Ah, a different matter altogether.” she said, placing the book and graphite aside. “The act of storytelling is as old as the creative spark that burns within us all. And though truly great storytellers are born, those lacking the unique gift may still acquire the skill.”

1. Keep it simple.

The first thing to bear in mind is if you have the choice between a complicated or simple telling, choose the simple approach. As marvelous as the brain may be, it can become overwhelmed if it attempts to process too much information at one time.

2. Open big.

Next, you mustn’t be afraid to grab your audience by the balls!” the woman smiled, amused by my unease. “And never apologize for doing so. You’re familiar with the saying, ‘you only get one chance to make a first impression,’ aren’t you? The same applies to your story. You need to carefully craft your opening line to grab your audience’s attention immediately, and represent the promise of your story by displaying a unique voice and perspective.

“There is no going soft here. Your opening line should possess the elements that make up the story as a whole, told in a distinctive voice, a point of view, a rudimentary plot and some hint of characterization. By the end of the first paragraph, your audience should know the setting and conflict… unless there is a particular reason to withhold this information.”

3. Be mindful of your story’s spine.

“Stories are the creatures that forage in the wilderness of our minds. Their claws pierce our curiosity, digging in deep to prevent our escape, as they force us into their maw, past razor sharp teeth of conflict. But despite outward appearances, these beasts are only as strong as their spine.

“Your duty is to support that spine by arranging your content in a logical order and supporting it with anecdotes that raise questions to keep up interest and moments of reflection to show your story’s appeal. We, as the audience, need a reason to care.

“And lop off the vestigial appendages of tangents where you find them. Going too far astray will only lose your audience’s attention.”

4. Don’t alienate your audience.

Some subjects require a delicate touch. You’ll know them by their appearance and the uneasy feeling they leave in your gut. By no means avoid them if they’re integral to your story, but instead find the best way to craft the tale so that you draw your audience in before revealing sensitive details. Invest them in the story before you shock them and then give them time to digest it.

5. End strong.

Whether you end your story on an upbeat note, allow your audience to fill in the blanks, come full circle with your lead, close with a relevant quote, provide a brief summary, or wrap things up with either a surprise or anecdotal ending… you need to come strong. Elevate your story’s effectiveness with a great ending and leave them with a lasting impression. The yang to your ‘first impression’ yin.

“You should also give your audience the proper space to appreciate your ending. A mere sentence or two in which you take a step back and let the story meaning steep in their mind.

And finally, allow your audience to hear the door click shut behind them, signifying that the story is well and truly over. Everything’s done and dusted. Thank you for visiting my world, now it’s time to return to your own.”

Got all that?” she asked. I nodded that I understood.

Good,” the woman rested the tip of the graphite stick on the book leaf, “now tell me a story.

Click.

Sally forth and be writeful.

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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