Lessons in Storytelling

I designed this course for selfish reasons. I wanted something for my own kids to use. Much of what was available was…well, lacking. When it came to creative writing, courses seemed to focus on the same things: formal and informal letters, essays, book reports, email, short-form text (for social media), speech writing, magazine and newspaper articles, brochures…and the list goes on. I even found one that had a lesson on writing a fax. A fax.

This isn’t 1995.

And what a lot of courses made up for in quantity, they lacked in depth. I was lucky to find something more than a page long on any of these areas. Most gave you the bare bones and expected you to figure the rest out for yourself. Without some form of direction, that figuring out wasn’t going to come easy.

What irked me even more was the sheer lack of materials on storytelling. Specifically storytelling. You are expected to throw a short story together on the flimsiest of content. “This is a paragraph” and “plan it like so” is about the best most of us can hope for.

As a writer of many years, both in the storytelling and corporate fields (where I get to practice my essays and letters and press releases and whatnots), I figured it was high time to put together something that my kids can work through, understand, implement, and execute. Create a story out of thin air, based on what was presented to them. I needed something that did things the way I would like to see it done, that not only gave them the tools they needed, but also encouraged them to think as a storyteller, to see things in certain ways, to look at the world around them and say: look, a story.

The most common question a writer hears is: where do you get your ideas from? The short answer is: we get them from our heads. We look, we see, we daydream. We ask questions like “what if” and “if so, then what?” What I wanted in a course was: here are some simple to understand tools; here are ways of looking at the world; here are the writing rules and ideas you need – to take what you see in the world – and bring if to life on paper: inventing, embellishing, exaggerating, and making it all up as you go. Watching the story come alive under your fingers with no thought to the ending because, after all, we’re not really in control of that.

Storytelling is always a mystery. The best of us never know how we are going to end anything. It just happens.