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Weekend Course–From Memory to Story

Jack and I got hooked on writing practice from working with Natalie Goldberg in Taos. She taught discipline. That’s what the timed writings are all about. You write until the timer goes ding. No matter what.

Back in Seattle, with our brains humming about how to teach what Natalie taught, we designed a weekend course called From Memory to Story. Our boss saw the enrollment and expanded the course from one weekend to three terms of 10 meetings each. We called the course Story Development. The title, so blithely said, forced us to define story.

I looked up the word story in the OED and waded through a whole column of stuff. Word-roots from Latin, German, Old French, German. Multiple definitions like narrative, account, tale, series of events, anecdote, allegation. Examples like newspaper story and upper story (a construction metaphor). Cliches like “That is another story.” The Greek word histor means learned man.

Guess what: none on this academic stuff gave us a definition a writer can use. We needed a clean definition to build on. A foundation, a base. Base got us to resource base – which Jack had discovered while working on a book with three biologists – and which we had already used to talk about motivating your character. Examples: the resource base in the film Water-World is dirt. Dirt is the reason the bad guys, led by Dennis Hopper, chase the little girl. She’s got a map to an island, place of dirt, tattooed on her back. The resource base in The Maltese Falcon is the bird itself, reputed to contain a king’s treasure in precious gems. The resource base in Leaving Las Vegas is money. Sera, the hooker, sells her body in exchange for money. She goes with Ben the first time because he has money.

Using the resource base as a goal, we came up with this definition: Story is a competition for a resource base. If you’re writing a memoir, the resource base comes out of your memory. If you’re writing fiction, you can create a resource base to motivate your characters: dirt or a black bird or a treasure in a cave. If you change the cave to a bank vault, you change the story.

If you’d like to use this stuff to teach a course of your own, feel free. If it works, let us know. Happy writing.

Memory and Story

A Weekend  Workshop ©2002

by Jack Remick and Robert J Ray

Saturday Target: An Ending
Study the Ritual curve for Beginning and Ending.
Writing on Story:

  • “I want to write a story about a character who….”
  • Title begins when….”
  • Title ends when…”

Character Grid: Four Inhabitants from Memoir Work

MemoirName        FictionName         Role        First meets Protag     Archetype         Wound    Scar       Object

A

B

C

D

Refer to list of Archetypes and Archetypal Scenes

Inhabitants to Characters:

We’ll work on the Love Story in your fiction. We’ll focus on the Ritual Firsts:

  • First Love:
  • First Encounter
  • First Words
  • First Touch
  • First Date
  • First Kiss
  • First Sex
  • First Fight

Startline: “This is a story about Character A who needs…”

“My name is Character A, I am the Protagonist. The first time I met Character X was in…. and the first words he/she said to me were….and the first time we touched, I… and on our first date we….and our first kiss left me feeling… and the first time we had sex he/she said …. and then we had our first fight because he/she didn’t want….

Mini-lecture on Backstory and Subplot:

Backstory                                                       Subplot
Backstory is what happens                 Subplot is the story beneath the story
before the story opens. It’s                 the story. A character enters at a point
details about the wants, needs          and her/his subplot develops its own
and motivations of characters.         its own character arc. Use Core Story to separate arcs

Backstory on Two Characters: Use Character Grid to get the Mark of the Antagonist–

Startline: My name is Character B, I am the Antagonist. I was born with a (wound, limp, sickle cell anemia, diabetes, a lust for death, a cleft palate…)

Startline: My name is Character C, I am (role) and I have always wanted (money, love, good clothes, a Ferrari, to be a whore, a pimp, a spy…)

Character B’s Subplot:

Character B enters the story when…. and then he/she discovers …. and then….

Moments to Scenes: Transforming the memoir moment into a fictional scene:

List of Moments from Memoir:

Memoir Moment Name:                                     Scene Name:

First time I….                                                   First Encounter: Protag/Antag

Big Moment in Memoir                                Big Scene in fiction.

Mini-lecture on Scene Structure vs Memoir Moment:

Memoir Moment      to Story Scene

Theme                                      Setting
Variations                              Character Description
Recapitulation                     Action and Dialogue
Seque                                      Intruder/Complication
Climax/Resolution           And then–Link to next scene

Big Scene: A definition – “You’ve got to read this book because there’s a scene at the end where…”

Use the English Patient and Leaving Las Vegas for First Encounters.

  • Writing: The Big Scene in my story takes place when…
  • Telling the Big Scene/Ending to a friend:
  • “There’s a scene at the end where A….”
  • Writing the Big Scene: Target – An Ending…

Setting: It was 3:00, the light in the room…
Character Description: His/her hair looked like
Action and Dialogue: What are you looking at?
Intruder: I knew I’d find you two here
Climax: Last line of Intruder writing
And then: The next scene is called …. and…

Type up the Big Scene. Bring copies for Group Read and Rewrite on Sunday.

Sunday–Plot and Subplot

Read Big Scenes or parts of scenes.

Read Character C’s subplot

Mini-Lecture on Plot and subplot.

Writing: To turn my memoir into fiction I need

The Protagonist tells the story to a Friend: Character B is the Antagonist –

First Encounter: I met B in X (Hong Kong, Berlin, Moscow, Seattle, Issaquah) at (Christmas, New Years, Game Five of the World Series, Fourth of July, 2000, 2001….). It was hot, cold, rainy, dry, windy and…

The Target here is a complete telling that ends with the Big Scene… LSR 20 Minutes

Resource Base and Subplot:

The resource base in Title of your story is…. and it first shows up in a scene where…. and then it appears in a scene called…. and the third time it shows up, the protagonist….

Story and Structure:
Title opens with the image of…
The Final Image of Title in this story is…
Mini-lecture on Core Story
Mini-lecture on Mythic Journey
Write the Mythic Journey using Antagonist’s Story Line

  • Cage
  • Escape
  • Quest
  • Dragon
  • Home

Three Act Structure:

Dramatic Incline: Act 1, Act 2, Act 3.

Plot Track on an Object:

From your Character Grid, find an object that’s associated with a character.
The (object) first appears when…
The object appears later, after, when…
The third appearance of the object is near the end when…

Mini-Lecture on The Language of Fiction

Image and Action
Description and Closeup.
Nouns: Use Durrell for Nouns; do analysis to show analogy.
Exposition and Analysis
Image and Voice
Short Sentences
Fragment
Chaining
Long Sentence Release
Rhetorical patterns.

Rewriting the Big Scene in Groups.

Warmup: What I’ve learned about my story so far…. (7 min)

Break into Groups:

Read each scene in groups. Discuss, using these rubrics:

Strongest part of the scene (beginning, middle, end)
Weakest part of the scene (beginning, middle, end)
What is the source of conflict in the scene?
Is there an intruder?
Can you identify the protagonist’s problem? Goal? Deeper Wish? Secret?
List objects in each scene. What plot tracks start here?
Can you identify the climax?

Time limit: 3-4 minutes analysis on each scene. Deploy timers.

Writing: break into pairs.

Rewrite the scene: Each writer rewrites the scene for the other writer….

Setting
Character Description
Action and Dialogue
Intruder/Complication
Climax/Resolution
Segue

Note: On Sunday afternoon, writers will read from their works.

Timed  writings, excerpts from memoir, scenes.

Archetypes: from Carl Jung and others –

Study this passage from Erich Neumann’s Art and the Creative Unconscious.

“The archetypes of the collective unconscious are intrinsically formless psychic structures which become visible in art. The archetypes are varied by the media through which they pass – that is, their form changes according to the time, the place, and the psychological constellation of the individual in whom they are manifested. Thus, for example, the mother archetype, as a dynamic entity in the psychic substratum, always retains its identity, but it takes on different styles – different aspects or emotional color – depending on whether it is manifested in Egypt, Mexico, or Spain, or in ancient, medieval, or modern times. The paradoxical multiplicity of its eternal presence, which makes possible an infinite variety of forms of expression, is crystallized in its realization by man in time; its archetypal eternity enters into a unique synthesis with a specific historical situation.”

  • Mother (Terrible Mother, Good Mother, Great Mother)
  • Rebirth (Metempsychosis, Reincarnation, Resurrection, Rebirth, Transformation)
  • Spirit (Imps, fairies, Tinkerbell, mythic helper)
  • Trickster (Fox, Raven, Wily Coyote, Felix Krull, any con-man)
  • Father
  • Child
  • Warrior
  • Shadow (teenage gangs, dark side, Darth Vader, Freddie)
  • Puer Aeternis (eternal youth, boy who refuses to grow up, Peter Pan)
  • Virgin
  • Whore
  • Prince
  • King
  • Queen
  • Miles Gloriosus: Dwight D. Eisenhower; Bobby Fischer; Joe Louis; Julius Caesar.
  • Outsider (an emerging archetype according to some – Not the Pariah of old but someone
  • with tattooed arms, shaven head, purple hair – Old Motorcycle Gangs, Bloods,Crips.
  • The Outsider chooses to remain off the grid.)
  • Initiate
  • Wise Old Man
  • Crone
  • Bitch Goddess (version of Terrible Mother)
  • Sleuth
  • Victim
  • Killer

Archetypal Scene names:

  • First Encounter
  • First Date
  • First Kiss
  • First Sex
  • Birth
  • Near-Death
  • Rebirth
  • Barter
  • Homecoming
  • Getting Home
  • Incorporation (Eating  Chewing  Digesting  Defecating)
  • Threshold Crossing  (Circumcision, clitoridectomy, Entering the Labyrinth, Birthday,
  • Wedding,  Funeral, Baptism, Getting a Tattoo)
  • Getting Laid
  • Bathing with Mama
  • Killing a Pig
  • Killing a Victim
  • The Killing Place
  • Cooking Bacon
  • Getting Dressed

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One Comment

  1. Kimberly Fisher wrote:

    Received my entry from SOLA and judge suggested your blog would be helpful. Thanks to that judge because this is just what I was looking for to learn how to sharpen my skills. Can’t wait to get started!

    Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

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