John M. Daniel’s Blog
April 1, 2017
Greetings, friends and celebrators of the joy to be found in stories—writing them, reading them, telling them, or hearing them. If you enjoy a good story, this weekly blog is for you.
In case you don’t know, this blog went out of service from part of February through all of March, because of an accident I had in our warehouse that left me temporarily disabled. As a consequence, the 99-word stories scheduled for the second week of March will be presented April 8. The theme for the May 99-word story will be “Tra la, it's May, the lusty Month of May, That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray.”
This week, beginning the first Saturday in the month, I present an installment of my book manuscript, also titled The Joy of Story. This book, which I will deliver to you in weekly installments, is a book I’ve written and may publish one day. Consider this a trailer that will play over the course of twenty-one months. That may be a record.
This week’s chapter is a gimmicky little essay I could call “All you need to know about writing stories, from A to C.” But that doesn’t quite fit. Instead, I call it “An Etude in the Key of C.” When I was a small boy taking obligatory piano lessons, I loved the key of C becaue its scale wasn’t complicated by black keys. When I first started playing the guitar, I got hooked on the key of C and could play almost any simple song with the chords belonging to that key. It was the wrong way to learn an instrument. So as you become a more and more versatile writer you’ll move past the C-words. But for the meantime, you can go a long way on the highway from C to Shining C.
THE JOY OF
What Is a Story? An Etude in the Key of C
"I took [the letter] up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
“All right, then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up.
It was awful thoughts, and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming."
Rust Hills summed it up thus: “Something happens to someone.” That’s it. Plot (something happens) and character (to someone).
Okay, but what happens? Change. Our someone is, at the end of the story, a different person from the one who she or he was at the beginning.
How does that come about? It could be because of chance (a trolley runs over his foot, so he will never tap dance again); but more often, and more interestingly, it’s because the character has made a choice.
The choice arises from a conflict. Remember: no conflict, no story. Conflict resolution, which comes in many forms, is what results in choice, and therefore in change. By the way, the conflict is often the outcome of a crisis of conscience, and results in a shift in the balance of power.
Yes, the choice itself has a consequence. The change, yes, we talked about that. But maybe a greater change. The moral center of gravity may have shifted. To make our story important, make that choice consequential. Write about what matters: the human condition. Write about love and death.
This critical moment of change, this catharsis, for reasons as old as the creative process, the recreative process, and even the procreative process, usually happens at the climax of the story.
If you don’t believe me, ask Huck Finn.
So as we write our stories, let us remember these ingredients, listed here in alphabetical order:
Catharsis, Center of Gravity, Chance, Change, Character, Choice, Climax, Condition (human), Conflict, Conscience, Consequence, Creative Process, Crisis, Critical Moment…and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few…
Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories
The deadline for May’s 99-word story submissions is May 1, 2017. The stories will appear on my blog post for May 13, 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: “Tra la, it's May, the lusty Month of May, That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray.”
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!