Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Telling the Story vs. Storytelling

I wrote, a little over a week ago, about the "big lesson" I have been learning from reading JK Rowling's latest book: The Casual Vacancy. It's all about the art of storytelling. I'd like to expand upon that here.

Anyone can tell a story, I mean if we couldn't, every single social situation would be silent. However, just because someone tells you some story, this does not put them on the same level of JKR. This occurred to me while reading The Casual Vacancy because, unlike the Harry Potter series, this book is has a more grounded storyline, free of fantasy, wizards and things that were created in the recesses of Rowling's mind. So, since the story isn't the hugely unique experience that Harry Potter was for me, i was wondering, what keeps me turning pages? Then it hit me: it's the storytelling.

I'd like to demonstrate the difference by telling you a story of something that happened to me - first in a very straightforward way, and then showing you how my telling differs when I put my storyteller hat on.

Here's what happened:

A number of years ago, when I used to run in the morning for exercise and peace of mind, I had one amazing experience that will always stay with me. I got up extra early on that day, started my run just as usual, but, for some reason, everything felt right that day - the weather was right, the neighborhood was quiet and my pace was perfect. I felt like a superstar!

Anyway, I always run the same route - it's about three miles from my house and back - but on this day, since everything was going so well, I wanted to stretch it out. So, when I came up to the point where I normally run alongside the woods, I decided, this time, to go in. That's when it happened - not ten feet in front of me - I was face to face with a deer! It was majestic! It was magnificent! I was stopped in my tracks. Something about the experience was spiritual for me. The deer saw me, I saw it, and I knew I didn't belong.

I stepped out of the woods and walked home in quiet contemplation. The beauty of the moment was overwhelming.

The End

That's THE story. It's what happened. It's essentially how I tell the story to people if I were casually talking to them; it gets the point across.

Read it on
When I started this blog in 2011 it was so I could have a place to participate in the writing activities provided by Write on Edge (back then they were calling themselves The Red Dress Club). The first time I did I used the story of my run as inspiration. That's when I wrote "Off My Trail". I want you to take a moment to read that.


OK. In "Off My Trail" I was a storyteller. The facts are all there, nothing is changed or added to what happened to me on that day, but this is so much more than THE story I told above. I sat down in front of my keyboard as a more than someone who was relaying the details of some event that happened in my life; I also wished to entertain the brain of my readers.

When writing, the details are important, the mood is the writer's choice, the emotion must come through. I didn't just give you the facts I invited you to feel them! What does that look like? Here are just a few examples I can see:
  • In the story above I told you "my pace was perfect", in Off My Trail I gave you the beat "one two one two" --- both of these are true, both discuss the same fact however in one I am telling you what happened, in the second I invite you to feel it.
  • In the story above I said, "I always run the same route - it's about three miles from my house and back", in Off My Trail I explained that route, taking the reader on the trip with me, "It is three miles from my kitchen door, to the baseball field and back. It's my route."
  • In the story above I said "the point where I normally run alongside the woods", in Off My Trail I said, "the block that borders the Greenbelt Natural Reserve" --- what I casually call "the woods" is the Greenbelt Natural Reserve, calling it by its name now adds life to it and a bit more depth, I think. (I didn't really think of that at the time I was writing, but I can feel a bit of the difference now upon reflection.)

There are definitely more examples, but I am not going to dissect the entire story. The point is Off My Trail , in my opinion, provides a more vivid snapshot of what took place that day and, in the end is a more "magical" telling if the story. This is what I see as the power of The Casual Vacancy. JK Rowling brings her magical storytelling to a story about ordinary people.

I think, this is the true challenge for all writers. We must ask ourselves at each step, Am I just telling the story, or am I storytelling?

With each passing page of my reading The Casual Vacancy it has become clearer and clearer to me that this is what my issue is with my current WIP. During all of my rereads, I couldn't help but feel as though *something* has been missing. Now I know what it is. I have a story; now I just have to put my storytelling hat on to truly tell it!

Do you have any tips for helping writers to wake the artful storyteller within?

Friday, October 5, 2012


I've always loved the perfect squares. They are numbers that stand out, that mean something, that can be represented visually in so many pretty ways. It is for this reason that I get very excited when I reach a "perfect year." Today I am turning 36 years old. 36 is a perfect square, therefore, in my mind, I can expect big things this year... and, hopefully, they will be awesome.

The "perfect years" I have experienced so far are 1, 4, 9, 16, and 25, and though I can't really recall the first year, the other four were very important to me.

4 Years Old

No, I don't remember being four years old. I'm not that amazing. However, something so incredible happened to me that year that it has altered the course of my entire existence. When I was four years old I got a baby brother. Aside from my husband, this other "boy" in my life is the most important person in my life and I knew it the moment I met him. So, yeah, 4 was pretty awesome.

9 Years Old

Like many girls I knew, I grew up a tomboy. Boys were nothing more than peeps to hang with and there was nothing greater to watch on TV than baseball. My team, for all the heartache it gives me, is the New York Mets. During the summer of my ninth year, having another "perfect year", the Mets played baseball in a way I had never seen before (or, sadly, since). Although I had already turned ten by the time the final 1986 World Series game was won, the real baseball joy came from that summer when I was nine.

16 Years Old

Junior year of high school. In my mind, there's nothing better than it. There's a certainty in all acts. You know where you fit in your social circles, you're making your plans for college (before you really see how terrifying it is) and you still have another year to fool around. All of these things were true for me, but what makes 16 shine more than all of that wrapped together is SWIMMING. I was 16 years old when I joined my high school's swim team. It was one of the best things I ever did for myself. In the twenty years since, I have always felt a sacred calm whenever I am blessed enough to find myself back in the pool. 16 - I love you forever!

25 Years Old

Holy crap. What can I say about this year? It was on target to be amazing. I was attending Hunter College I was going for my Masters in Pure Mathematics, a dream I'd had ever since a summer program at Rutgers put me side by side with real mathematicians. I was commuting in and out of Manhattan for night classes and loving that I had an excuse to be in "The City". In addition to all of this, my school year as a teacher was starting out fantastically - I was heading in to work super early, I was ahead on all of my grading, I was connecting with my students and loving all of my classes.

But I turned 25 in 2001, a month after my city was rocked. Then, for the rest of the year, my family was rocked. My aunt passed away who I loved and felt I could identify with more than any other adult in my family. Followed by my grandmother, the mother to my father who I had lost when I was twelve, passing away a month later. And, of course, my grandfather passed away months after that - I felt like I lost my father all over again.

25 wasn't a perfect year, but in its unrelenting storms, it chiseled my innocent form into the adult I am today. I don't know how I survived the year, but, I tell you this, it is one of the most memorable of my life. It changed everything. It changed me.

36 Years Old...

What will be the legacy of this year? So far, the odds are in my favor that it is going to be a pretty good year. Even 25 had such potential for being one of the greatest. I have good feeling about this. Hey 36, I put my two chronic conditions in remission for you and I've been writing a lot lately... I think we might have something to work with here!

And you??

How do your "perfect years" measure up? Do they stand out amongst the rest? Is there some other pattern in your life - perhaps you are cubic? Hmm... not a lot of years to work with there... Oh well, you let me know!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Poem [Quatern] - Words to See

Your words were there for us to see
When tales were told to family
Passed on and on year after year
And teaching those with open ears.

When inks spilled on fruits of the tree
Your words were there for us to see
Artfully etched lines from the spill
Await eyes with the reading skill.

And with the magic of the press
Those pages were filled with less stress
Your words were there for us to see
Bound within leather so handsomely .

Power surged in technology
Transforming pages into "e"
Through wires and waves magically
Your words were there for us to see.

~Nicole Rivera

This poem is known as a quatern. The rules of a quatern are as follows:

  • There are 16 lines.
  • Four stanzas with four lines each.
  • The first line repeats four times in the poem in the following places: 1st line in the 1st stanza, 2nd line in the 2nd stanza, 3rd line in the 3rd stanza, and 4th line in the 4th stanza.


This poem is my first contribution to this month's writing challenge presented by Morgan Dragonwillow called OctPoWriMo. Morgan and her other poetically inclined buddy Julie Jordan Scott are challenging us all to write one poem a day for the month of October.

So far I am one for one. Let's see if I can keep it going!!

Much thanks to Morgan for the challenge and also for directing me to where I learned what a quatern is!

The Blog Hop

To see who else is participating in OctPoWriMo, or to jump in for yourself, check out the links below: