THE JOY OF STORY
John M. Daniel’s Blog
January 7, 2017
Greetings to all on this first Saturday of the new year, 2017! Welcome back to all of you who have visited this blog during the past few years; and to all of you stumbling into the room by chance or sheer nosiness, welcome to you, too. I post on Saturdays, usually, and each post stays at the top of the blogsite for a week. This weekly blog, which I call The Joy of Story, is a celebration of stories, primarily for writers and readers. I direct the show, loosely speaking, but I encourage regular, occasional, and accidental readers to add their own ideas and responses in the comments section that appears at the end of each blog post.
My credentials for hosting this weekly gathering are a lifetime of laboring (with pleasure) in the various fields of literature as a writer, editor, publisher, bookseller, and teacher of creative writing. I focus on story for this blog, because that’s what thrills me most about writing and reading.
What is a story, exactly? The short answer is this: A story tells about something that happened to somebody. Essential ingredients of a story are conflict, choice, and change. A story must have a narrative arc, and a story must entertain while it says something worth reading or hearing. There’s a great deal more to list about what a story is, what makes it work, what makes it play. To see what I mean, stick around and come back on either regular or occasional Saturdays.
This New Year I have made some resolutions concerning The Joy of Story. I want to have a more dependable structure for the blog, and so have come up with a regular weekly schedule, as follows:
I have collected together 22 essays about the story form (fiction and nonfiction). Some of these essays were first used as lecture notes for classes I taught in public education classes, mostly for seniors. Others are repeats from my earlier writing instruction book, Structure, Style and Truth: Elements of the Short Story. Some of the essays also appeared in the literary magazine Black Lamb, to which I used to contribute monthly essays over the course of several years. Some of them have already appeared in this blog. I intend some day to publish this small collection of writing lessons in book form (the book will be titled The Joy of Story, of course), but for the time being I will post each of the 22 pieces sequentially on my blog, starting today with the Preface: “How I became a Writer.”
On the second Saturday of each month, I will post 99-word stories submitted to me by you, this blog’s “audience.” To learn about how this feature works, read the instructions toward the bottom of post. Please note that this is not a contest. I believe strongly that writing is not a competitive sport. I’m going to say a few words each week on what I like about particularly good stories, because I think particularly good writing should be praised and prized and recognized. But I won’t criticize. I am aware that some of my contributors are beginning writers and have a lot to learn. I hope they’ll learn from reading the stories of others, as well as what I have to say about the craft of writing.
The week beginning on the third Saturday of the month will be devoted to a guest author. This will give us another voice and perhaps some fresh ideas on how to find joy in writing and/or reading stories. It also gives the author a chance to introduce a newly published or soon-to-be-published book. The guest author’s writing style and genre can be anything that includes story-telling, such as fiction, memoir, or poetry. If you’re an author who wants a place to promote a new or recent book, check out the invitation that appears below, following the information about the 99-word stories.
For the fourth week I plan to post a chapter of my novel The King’s Eye: A Fantasy of the Farther Isles. There are 21 chapters in the novel, and I will post them in order, so that the story will run as a serial. The chapters are short, and each ends with a cliff-hanger. My hope is to hook you, so you’ll be sure to check in each week and find out what happens next! I think you’ll enjoy reading the stories that make up this book—almost as much as I enjoyed writing them.
The fifth Saturday of the month, if there is a fifth Saturday, will be a wild card. I’ll let you know when the time comes.
That’s it—what you can expect to find on my blog in the weeks and months ahead. Now I’ll move on to this week’s feature, the preface to my manuscript The Joy of Story.
THE JOY OF
Preface: How I Became a Writer
Not long after I learned to read (I cut my teeth on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), I developed a strong urge to tell stories of my own. That is: I wanted to write!
I decided to write my first story when I was five or six years old. I borrowed a pencil and a piece of paper from my mother and asked her what I should write my story about.
“Write about what you know about,” she advised me.
So I did. The story came out something like this: “Johnny and his mother went to the circus. They saw clowns. They had fun. They came home. The end.”
My mother was proud of me. (Of course. That’s what mothers are for.) But when I showed my story to my brother, Neil, who was nine years older than I, he said, “It’s not a real story. A real story needs conflict.”
That put me in a quandary. At the age of six, I had no conflict in my life, so I couldn’t write a real story if I were to write about what I knew about. That put my writing career off for another ten years or so.
Then I started reading the novels of Richard Bissell, and I thought to myself: I can do this. I tried it, and I found I was right: I could do this. By that time I was a teenager, so of course there was conflict in the life I knew so well; it goes with the territory.
Elmore Leonard said that 70% of what he knew about writing came from reading the novels of Richard Bissell. So you can believe me when I say that Bissell is worth your time. But it doesn’t have to be Bissell. Find your own favorite writer and write something that writer might want to read.
Once I got started, I never stopped. The first fiction I wrote wasn’t worth the wear and tear on my typewriter, but eventually I got a novel published–by Perseverance Press! I dedicated Play Melancholy Baby to the memory of Richard Bissell (and Lorenz Hart, another one of my writing heroes.)
I haven’t supported myself with my writing (not many writers do), but I’ve never stopped writing, and in the meantime I’ve worked in the written word: as a student, a reader, a bookseller, an editor, a ghostwriter, a fiction writer, a publisher, and a teacher of creative writing.
I owe it to my mother, my brother, and mainly to other writers–Bissell and many more. And of course to my students and my readers.
Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories
The deadline for February’s 99-word story submissions is February 1, 2017. The stories will appear on my blog post for February 11, and will stay posted for a week.
note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.
Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:
1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to: firstname.lastname@example.org
THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY: Write a story inspired by the following sentence (in honor of Valentine’s Day): I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.
Calling all published authors—
I try to feature a guest author the third Saturday (and week following) of each month. If you’re interested in posting an essay on my blog—it’s also a chance to promote a published book—email me directly at email@example.com.
Thank you for visiting. Please drop by next week!