Mar 20, 2009

What is that smell?

The first major breakout sessions have started. I am sitting in Tom French's session on "Narrative Archeology: Digging up the dialogue, textural details, and action to create compelling true stories."

Very good session and people are really paying close attention. How do I know? Because I am sitting in the back, in the corner of a room and a mouse just ran under my leg. Seriously. No one noticed but me. But I swear it happened.

Tom talked about smell. And it had nothing to do with the mouse. (I could say, "I smell a rat," but I am better than that).

Tom pointed out how in writing narratives, it is important to convey a sense of what your senses are picking up. Think about fresh cut grass. The smell of Johnson's Baby Oil. The smell of a pie. The thought of those smells, says Tom, can mean a great deal to the reader. This can also go for colors. What are you seeing? Describe it.

Little details like this can make for a great story.

Here are a few highlights
•He says we write too much about two percent of our population. The politicians, public officials, rich people, jocks, etc. But if we took the time with the other 98 percent - the ordinary people - our odds of getting access to good and stories increases.
•On taking environmental notes - He said he is straightforward about the approach. He asks to look on a subjects desk. Or to look in the locker of a student he is writing about. Again, this helps the texture of the story and provides new avenues to ask questions. He has even asked 13-year-olds who he is interviewing to look at their cell phones. Talk about the stories you can get out of that session. One example of the cell phone thing is that he met one girl who had a good number of texts to and from a boy she liked. But most of her text messages were to her elderly grandmother, whom she was very close to. She taught her grandmother how to text and even use texting shorthand. What a beautiful detail to a story. What a detail that he could have missed, had he not simple asked to see her phone.

One more thing. Tom said that the best tutorial about writing about and recreating real life events that might have happened before you were born is found at the end of Laura Hillenbrand's book, "Seasbiscuit: An American Legend." 
Check it out

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