Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Spirit of Storytelling

by Bill Johnson

I taught a Spirit of Storytelling workshop as a benefit for Elizabeth Lyon. I discovered something that's helped me a great deal with my new play that has lacked a quality of depth. During the workshop I asked the people attending to meditate and visualize someone who represented the audience for their story. Then, to have that person speak about why a particular story spoke to them.

A bit more to it than that, but it really opened my eyes to a deeper layer to the play. I realized when I meditate on a story (deep meditation for me takes 2-3 hours to get to a place of quiet mind), that I was calling on my own understanding, and not seeking that understanding from a story character or an audience to my story.

Still pondering it all.

Happy to reach another level of understanding.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Two Ideas

by Bill Johnson

Someone asked me in an intro to screenwriting class what I would teach in an advanced class. After thinking it over, given a free choice, I'd spend eight hours teaching people how to write a good sentence. Most bad writing is an accumulation of bad or weak sentences. Which is why it's so hard to fix a flawed novel. Fixing structural problems doesn't get to the underlying, word to word problems.

On a theatrical front, I'm on the third version of a full length play. I wasn't happy with the new variations on the characters, so I've decided to write ten minute plays with 2-3 characters in each. A way to get to some deeper truths about characters, and to give scenes more dramatic definition and fulfillment.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Spirit of Storytelling

I went to a meditation tonight and asked for help. I realized that to teach the difference between personal storytelling versus telling a story to an audience, I need to get to what I call the spirit of storytelling. This would be a place where a writer creates characters without judging them or shaping them to meet the needs of the author (or making all the characters all an extension of the author's voice).

I realized during the meditation I'll only get to some understanding of this through the world of spirit, at least my getting there. Two years ago I was listening to a monk speak and I had a deep realization about the spirit of storytelling, something that would have been an organizing principle like a story is a promise. But I didn't have a pen and I lost the understanding once I came down from the high mood I was in listening to the monk.

Anyway, I'm teaching a characterization workshop this weekend in Medford/Ashland an during the meditation I had an idea for the first exercise I could ask people to do for the spirit of storytelling.

When I teach and people ask me questions, the answers come to me. If I don't teach and don't hear the questions, I don't know the answers.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is It Smart To Make Yourself The Main Character in Your Fiction Novel?

When you are beginning to write your fiction novel, character development is key. As many authors know, lines often become blurry, and main characters can easily resemble yourself. However, how far should you take it, and is it effective to have yourself as the main character in your fiction novel?

This many times can stem from unresolved issues that you would like to express within your fictional story. This can be a good and a bad thing. If you have had a very emotional experience in your life, then you can use yourself as your fictional main character to give an outside point of view to specific events that have occurred. Many people would call a story about character based on themselves a memoir, but what if you wanted to put that main character within fictional events that weren't true to your life? That is the beauty of being a writer because you have the opportunity to blur truth with reality, and you can use yourself as your main character within the story that you are creating.

Many people may feel that it is more effective to make themselves the main character in their fiction novel because it gives them a better voice and tone to their writing. Again, since it is a fiction novel, many of the events will be fabricated within the storyline, but you will still be using yourself as the main character to tell the story. This can often give you the opportunity to express something in your life that you did not get the chance to express before. Now you are in control, and you can write your story however you would like with yourself as the main character.

This does have a good and a bad side because many people may do this with suppressed motives of anger or sadness regarding true events that have happened to them. They may want to write themselves as the main character to be able to rewrite the past and work through some of their issues.

Regardless, your choice in using yourself as the main character is up to you if you are still staying true to the theme of your novel. For some people, this may be an interesting avenue to provide first-hand insight of events that will make the story one-of-a-kind.


Chuggin McCoffee is a coffee fanatic that has spent the entirety of his career cultivating and studying all of the best uses and brewing styles for optimal coffee and espresso flavor. His specialty site for all coffee needs, supplies, and Automatic Drip Coffee Makers can be found at The Coffee Bump.com.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Hats for Sale, by Nancy Hill

Hats for Sale is a video written and created by Nancy Hill, a photographer and writer who lives in Portland, Oregon. The video can be viewed at http://storyispromise.blip.tv/
Nancy is the photographer and writer of the The Dolltender, also available for viewing on Blip.tv.
To view more of Nancy's work, visit http://www.nancyhillphotography.com/default4.asp
Hats for Sale is a retelling of Slobodkina's Caps for Sale.

Friday, August 21, 2009

24 Hours of Summer

I saw (500) Days of Summer tonight. When I was young, I lived in my head, just like the young man in this movie. In the movie, he gets involved with a free spirit, which is pretty much something that happens a lot in the fantasies of young guys who live in their heads, not so much in real life.

In the movie, the guy has an interior life; the girl doesn't, which reinforces the fantasy aspect.

So I was really tripping emotionally while watching the movie.

For the record, as a young poet I was engaged for 24 hours to Jay Sheckley, who was Portland's Madonna at the time. Someone told me once the high point of her life was following Jay around San Francisco for eight hours.

After I started studying story structure (the ideas that became a story is a promise), I re-read the hundreds of short stories I'd written when young, and a few novels. Many were written with main characters who lived in their heads, generally a terrible choice for stories, since readers often want to experience a story through an active character on some kind of journey. Not with quiet guys who think a lot and don't do much.

Yes, it can be done, but it's easy to do badly, hard to do well.

Anyway, 500 Days makes its story more interesting by chopping up the narrative and manufacturing a happy ending.

For the record, I sweat bullets the whole 24 hours I was engaged to marry Jay. I really, really enjoy relating the experience more than I enjoyed living through it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Self Awareness/Directed Awareness

I was thinking about awareness today. For people, self-awareness has many facets. People in general need brain power to filter out much of the information their senses collect. I think self-awareness for particular people can end up running in channels, so that we can quickly assign meaning and values to people and relationships in our lives and not get bogged down/drown in processing details. Relationships can also be symbolic, in the sense that a symbol can stand in for a relationship, a kind of short hand code.

The problem arises when a new writer doesn't realize their particular short hand code (a dark-haired woman with thick glasses could be a symbol for an abusive parent) doesn't evoke anything for a reader. The job of our brains to filter out details or shape our reality to a particular design can lead to a kind of neutered, thin writing that fails to ring true. Except for the person writing in their particular symbolic code.

Directed awareness, however, is a choice about where to focus awareness. Cynthia Whitcomb, the President of Willamette Writers, has had a long career as a successful screenwriter. When she began focusing more on writing plays, she read a play a day for a year. That was one way she assimilated a deeper understanding of what makes for a good play.

I find students in my screenwriting classes who don't like or watch movies. They simply want to imagine an idea of theirs turned into a Hollywood film, or imagine their life being turned into a major motion picture, with the money involved. I sometimes lose 50% to 70% of my students in a particular class. I suspect when I try and teach them directed awareness about storytelling -- consciously learning the craft -- they aren't ready for the work involved, or they come to realize the work involved.

About directed awareness versus intuition, recent brain scan studies have shown that once people have assimilated understanding (gained understanding about some facet of writing like plot, for example), when a problem arises, the subconscious can take that assimilated understanding of storytelling and find a solution to a particular plot problem. Then pop the answer in to the conscious mind.

Which some people interpret as intuition.

The catch is, the subconscious can only present that answer to the conscious mind when that mind is not preoccupied with a particular problem. Being pre-occupied with a problem blocks the subconscious mind from accessing the conscious mind and providing an answer.

I go over this more in the latest version of my book, and reference some of these new scientific studies. I find it fascinating that brain scans give a more accurate representation of how the brain works and functions.

Many years ago I was in a state of deep meditation where I could see the flow of my subconscious thoughts/feelings/awareness welling up into my conscious mind; be aware of thoughts before they became conscious thoughts. Odd, enchanting process to observe.


A fourth edition of my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, is now available for $2.99 from Amazon Kindle.

An Unexpected Revelation

There was a gathering of some of the original cable access video volunteers in Portland at my place today. I introduced myself to one gentleman who started telling me about putting together a memoir about his father's life and experiences in WWII. Then it came out that his father lived in a boarding house in Vienna after WWI, with Adolf Hitler living in the basement of the boarding house.

I'd like to see the memoir when it's completed.

Many years ago I met a man who said his father was a pilot in a bomber group in WWII. That when missions were aborted mid-flight, the bombers could pretty much drop bombs on a long list of targets, except the railroad tracks running in to the death camps. They were forbidden by direct order not to bomb those railroad tracks, while railroad tracks in general were an open target if missions were aborted.

Interesting stories you can hear at gatherings.

For a short time in my life, I kept finding myself being a minor irritant to various billionaires. I kind of miss those days. I haven't irritated a billionaire in many years now. I'm sure I wasn't much above the level of a bug hitting a windshield to them, but still, that's a righteous feeling, being a bug with a mission.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Dolltender, by Nancy Hill

Nancy Hill's The Dolltender is a video of a book written and photographed by Nancy. In the story, a young girl's parents disappear into a looking glass. She ends up hiding in a trunk stored in the back room of an antique store. The little girl begins to care for the dolls until she's found out and exiled...until the dolls help her come up with a plan to come back to the home she's created for them all.

The Dolltender is a heart warming story for all ages.

Nancy is a professional photographer and writer living in Portland, Oregon. To view other photos by Nancy, visit http://www.nancyhillphotography.com/

Copyright The Dolltender Nancy Hill, all rights reserved.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Thinking about the Spirit of Storytelling

I've worked through many of the A Story is a Promise ideas. I've started working through the ideas around the difference between personal storytelling and telling a story to an audience. Almost two years ago I was listening to a monk speak and I had a deep, clear realization about how the brain operates (conscious, subconscious or unconscious), and superconscious. But I didn't have a pen, and I lost the realization.

So now I'm trying to put the pieces together instead of starting with a foundation and building on it.

Initial ideas, conscious mind deals with relationships, subconscious stores memories/facts, superconscious (spirit) is a place we can see the truth about ourselves and story characters, and not have a need for others/story characters to be characters in an internal drama.

So, I was speaking to my friend Monty tonight. His observation is that we live in a culture where people are rewarded for being active and busy and getting paid for developing or using skills to do things. Which creates people good at recording facts, and processing relationship info from an ego-centric frame of reference, and also creating people who are emotionally numb. Being perpetually busy becomes a substitute for feeling.

When such people try to write a story, which is often on a basic level a journey of feeling, all they relate are facts devoid of feeling, except for minor characters who act out the author's anger, jealousy, rage, etc.

But how to help people get to that spirit level which exists, first, in a quiet mind which isn't tied up re-imagining daily events or ruminating about old wounds and re-projecting different outcomes. And then to a place where that place of quiet spirit someone can accept themselves and see others as they are without a need to project something onto them, and thus write in a deeply felt way that allows story characters to have their own truths.

But what that original insight was, I still don't remember.

I guess I'll just keep wrestling with the pieces.



A fourth edition of my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, is now available for $2.99 from Amazon Kindle, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004V020N0