How to Tell a Story

I have a story that floats in and out of my mind.  I can’t see the whole of it.  It comes and goes in fragments, flashes, bits of sound, smells, fears …

It’s a story of escape, return, and unexpected endings.

The story comes in three parts: What happened, what happened before, and what happened after.  How can I tell you what happened if you don’t know what happened before? Then you’ll want to know what happened after.

How can I just tell the story of a future past?

How do you repeat the history of something that hasn’t happened?

My tastes in literature cover a wide range from classic 19th century novels to 20th century science fiction.  I also love to read non-fiction history and biographies especially.  In my youth I had a special place in my tastes for dystopia novels, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World.  I also have a taste for post apocalyptic stories, Earth Abides, Alas Babylon, On the Beach, and Cat’s Cradle, among some of my early reads. 

Currently I am reading one Heather found in the library, A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher.  I’m a few chapters in and am being drawn in by his narrative style and use of a first person story teller.

Honestly, it’s the kind of story telling I’d like to write.

I’ve also just recently read another book that I found compelling: The Post X by Elizabeth Acevedo. It’s a complete novel written in poetry.  Yup, just poems, but it manages to tell a great coming of age story.  It’s a great achievement in story telling and Acevedo does it well.

Again, another kind of story I wish I could tell.

The novel I am writing is set in a not to distant future and is about a young man trying to escape a repressive society.  Part adventure. Part good vs. evil.  Part dystopia and just a touch of romance. I’ve been writing it for a long time (I’m a slow writer) – about a decade and so far the book has survived two computer crashes.  Currently the files reside on it’s third computer (and are backed up in the cloud).

My problem is that the story comes to me in fragments that don’t make a full continuous narrative.  That’s held it up for a long time (along with life issues and computer crashes).  There is a hand written note on one of my drafts that reads, “Fracture the crystal.”  And that’s where I am with story telling – telling my story in bits and pieces.  If I were to name an influence it would be Always Coming Home by Ursula K Le Guin.  You should read it – I reread it every few years.

So I’ve been writing fragments and trying to stitch them together in an order that tells a story.  But I found I needed a thread to hold all the pieces together.  The result so far is about 100 pages of notes, fragments, and research plus the main story of my hero’s journey away from the world I built for him.  The constant thread is the story of Colin and his travels.  The fragments build his world and the history of that world.

In my research notes I found these “On this Date in History” columns from the Vandenberg Times (circa 2277). Here is an example:

In 2093 Vandenberg AFB Commander, General Stovall declared himself as military governor of the California Central Coast Federal District.  Major Jose Alonso pledged loyalty to Stovall and thus the whole of the Home Guard and police departments in the region joined to enforce Stovall’s marshal authority.  Stovall’s rule ended with the signing of the City constitution in 2101, when he requested retirement and transferred command of VFB to General David West and the newly formed Bureau of Defense.

As I continue to write and seek to write this story, I am constantly asking myself, “Do these fragments tell a story that is worth telling?”

and just for the record, the main novel is up to 6,130 words.  At this rate, it should be completed in 2026.

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Friday Question – Introduction

I’m writing a story.  A novel. A book. A thing that won’t go away. A story that must be told.

I have a question of you.

What would you think of a book that begins?

Perhaps there is no story more difficult to tell than the one that changes all.  Such a story gains its own life and becomes more than it was.  Each person who is touched by the story adds their own part to the narrative, forever changing it and sending to places it has never been.

            How to tell such a story?

            You can’t, because once you tell it, you change – you become part of the narrative as the story bends slowly to you.  The story is transient, ephemeral, ever decaying and ever growing.

            The author of this tale is both you and I.  It is told the way my children will learn about my life – in fragments, images, and with the ever evolving re-understanding of my past.  It is a story reflected in a shattered crystal, multifaceted, fragmented, and yet a reminder that perfection once existed.

Would you turn to chapter one?

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First a little announcement: It’s summer.

Yup, it was in the news, I checked, and in fact it’s summer.  Started Friday, likely to go on for a few months.  It’s also getting warmer and sitting in front of a warm computer isn’t fun, so I expect I’ll be doing fewer blog posts until it gets colder and I need to warm my hands on something.

And, summer is vacation session, barbecue session, going to the beach session and poetry workshop session.  Over the next two months I’ll be doing a bunch of these, but since there are only 24 hours in day and 7 days in a week and my schedule is already full, the time has to come from somewhere.  I’m taking a few days off work, and I’ll have to cut back on a few of my writing projects.

Likely I’ll be spending more time sitting by lakes, rivers, oceans and talking to trees more than sitting in my hot office writing blog posts.

So instead of a real post today I’d like to answer a question I often get:

Where do I get all my creative ideas?

Okay, I was asked once, maybe twice.

You see creativity is a bit like a battery – to get electricity out you have to put electricity in.  Simple.  Well, sort of, to charge a battery you need a source of electricity, some wire, a voltage regulator, current limiter, a pulse width modulator, fuse, and if you’re really doing it right a thermocouple feeding temperature readings back to the PWM.  A computer to manage the whole thing wouldn’t go amiss … There is nothing as complex as simplicity.

One source of electricity is a generator.  You know a thingy on a spinning shaft, with lots of wires, maybe a magnet or two with a “prime mover” to spin the shaft.  As the shaft spins electricity comes out.  The prime mover could be anything from a gas engine to a windmill to a hand-crank.

No, seriously, the thing that spins the shaft is a “Prime Mover.” It’s in the book, page 15.

It’s so simple.  I’ll skip the whole you’ll also need transformers, capacitors, diodes, voltage regulators and a ton of other stuff that I learned in electronics school.

Did I ever tell you that? In addition to being a world famous poet, I’m also a qualified “Electronic Engineering Technician.”  Got a certificate around here somewhere that says that.  Might be behind my English diploma – right next to my computer programing books.  Yes, focus isn’t one of my strong points.

Anyway, the whole creativity as a battery metaphor naturally got me thinking about motors, as it does.  Electric motors that is – not to be confused with engines or gear reductions.

But I digress.

You know that an electric motor takes electricity and converts it into motion?  Yup, it spins a shaft that we can bolt things to, like a fan to cool my office.

Here’s the really weird thing: If you take a motor and spin the shaft, it creates electricity  – it’s a generator too!

How cool is that?  The same bit of wire and metal can either take electricity and make motion or can take motion and make electricity.

But, you can’t do both at the same time with the same doohickey (doohickey, technical term meaning ‘thingamabob’).  You either can use the electricity or make the electricity.

Poets, writers and other artists are a lot like a battery connected to a motor.  We only have one of each – one battery, one motor.  The creative battery spins the motor which spins out poems, novels, paintings, blog posts, and other creative things.  When the battery runs out of juice, the spinning stops.

The creative battery can be recharged by reversing the process.  First you have to stop creating and turn your motor into a generator to recharge your battery.  Prime Movers for the creative generator are: Wind, trees, rivers, lakes, oceans, art galleries, reading books, bbqs, listening to music, conversations with friends, time with loved ones, writer’s workshops, and so on.

So, I’m going to switch to generation mode for while.

Back when the battery is fuller.


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Friday Wisdom – What is …

Q: What has four legs, is big, green, fuzzy, and if it fell out of a tree would kill you?

A: A pool table.

more wisdom next week,


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