Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Crafting 101: There Are No Little Characters...

There is a difference between crafting a story and just getting up and telling one.  Pretty much anyone who isn't afraid of speaking in public can get up and tell a story of some kind.  We share stories at weddings and funerals.  We share them during worship services, and amongst friends.  We share them on the radio and television. 

In this series of Blogs, I will look at a single story, and show the process I use to get from my first exposure to a tale all the way to the finished structure.

This is the fifth entry in the series.

The Pot Maker and The Tiger - The Story

1. Crafting 101: The Questions I Ask

2. Crafting 101:  Building The Structure

3. Crafting 101:  Flesh On The Bones

4  Crafting 101:  Donkey's and tigers and War Horses, Oh My!

5. Crafting 101: There Are No Little Characters...

6.  Crafting 101:  Putting It Together

7. Crafting 101:  Introductions!

In the last installment of the series, I focused on the animals that appear in the story.  This post is about the human secondary characters.  They appear in the margins, do a little something, and then disappear.  They are the background music of your story, and they have their part to play.

The biggest problem one can have with the support staff in a story is creating a character that is so intriguing he or she actually takes over part of the tale.  This is not an uncommon problem, but with a little crafting, you can avoid it as much as possible.

What am I talking about?  Ask yourself some questions:

Have you ever gotten to the end of a story and found yourself wondering what happened to one of the characters who was not a main part of the story?

Have you ever gotten to the end of a tale and found yourself far more interested in some almost throw away side plot instead of the main thrust of the tale?

Have you ever finished a telling and had a large part of the audience ask about some character who should have been an afterthought?

If you encounter any of these things, then chances are one of the support staff has moved out of its proper place and into the limelight.

This happens all of the time in story lines.  Sometimes characters who are supposed to be support are just too darn interesting.  In film, written media and television, when characters become too fascinating, it is possible to just spin them off on their own.

Here are some support staff who went on to star in their own stories:

The Mary Tyler Moore Show saw a number of its support staff turn into main characters.  Rhoda and Lou are just two of them.

A show about a guy who owns a bar                                                   One of the guys in the bar

George ended up in a deluxe apartment in the sky

I never got into this one, but it does count

Jack Sparrow ended up in his own movie.

Your job as the crafter is to make sure that your support staff doesn't take over your story.  They shouldn't be nagging at the audience.  Their part in your story should be clear, and wrapped up in some way that is satisfying, otherwise, they will haunt the story and the audience.

So, let us consider the support staff in The Pot Maker and The Tiger.

The old woman in the leaky house.

She's been alone for ten or fifteen years.  She hates the dripping.  She hates it with the heat of one thousand white hot suns.  She either can't or won't move, and perhaps this annual fight with the Monsoon gives her a perverse  sense of purpose.  Either way, when she starts talking about the coming of the dripping she is crazed.  Fun, and over the top, but not something anyone is going to ask about later.

The background neighbors.

The neighbors who gather at the front porch, at the factory or in the pub.  A nameless, faceless mob who can be spoken of as one without bothering to delineate any of them.  

'They don't believe his stories, but find them entertaining'.  
'They are beginning to believe his tales'.  
'They stood there gawking at the tiger'. 

The Wife.

His wife, well, we've spent lots of time working with her, and she can be either a support staff, or one of the main characters depending on how you decide to work it.

The Rajah

I haven't really spoken much about this character.  He's a ruler.  I plan to give him a commanding sort of voice.  That is not my only option, of course.  I can choose between having him be a caring sort of person, a thoughtless sort, or a coward.  Any of them would work, and it wouldn't matter one way or the other aside from the business the Rajah has to engage in during his two brief scenes.  You could make him silly or serious, the choice, I think, must be the teller's.

The Warlike Rajah.

He's amassing a giant army.  Check.  I will have him kill the royal families and take the young men for his army when he invades.    I don't think he's actually going to say anything.  In fact, the only time he really enters the tale as an interacting character is when he sends the polite note explaining that he has no interest in bothering with the kingdom.

Generals and soldiers

The Generals of the Pot Maker's Rajah are generals.  Concerned for their homeland and their ruler.

The soldiers in the warlike Rajah's army are mostly conscripts, and they break and run when they begin to imagine what sort of terrible army must be coming at them if the scout is mounted on a rearing horse with a tree over his head.

I think that covers everyone.  

These characters will have flashes of either big humorous actions, or they represent large groups who act and behave as one.  

It will not be hard to keep these folks in the background unless I do something foolish like giving the Rajah a character and backstory that he does not need to further the plot.

So, I will not be developing these guys very much.  

I will admit, however, that at one point during the stage where I was considering how to introduce and present these characters in the tale, I got sort of side tracked with the pot maker's Rajah.  I took him to pretty far lengths, and then decided that his story was neither compelling nor needful.

All right.   Now I've finally gotten all of the pieces of the tale thought through.  It is time to start putting it all back together.

The next part of this process is the pacing and the beats in the tale.  Time to put it together and see how long it is, whether it is ponderous, what accents I need to add or get rid of or expand.  I also need to add the transition language, figure out how the story flows from event to event, and make the story smooth in the telling.  That requires telling it from one end to the other as I get ready to roll it out for its very first audience.

We are down to our last two posts in the series!

The next post is going to be about assembling the pieces.

Happy Crafting!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Crafting 101: Donkeys and Tigers and War Horses, Oh My!

There is a difference between crafting a story and just getting up and telling one.  Pretty much anyone who isn't afraid of speaking in public can get up and tell a story of some kind.  We share stories at weddings and funerals.  We share them during worship services, and amongst friends.  We share them on the radio and television. 

In this series of Blogs, I will look at a single story, and show the process I use to get from my first exposure to a tale all the way to the finished structure.

This is the fourth entry in the series.

The Pot Maker and The Tiger - The Story

1. Crafting 101: The Questions I Ask

2. Crafting 101:  Building The Structure

3. Crafting 101:  Flesh On The Bones

4  Crafting 101:  Donkey's and tigers and War Horses, Oh My!

5.  Crafting 101: There Are No Little Characters...

6.  Crafting 101:  Putting It Together

7.  Crafting 101:  Introductions!

The Pot Maker and The Tiger has a great cast of supporting characters.  Putting all of them in one post would make it unnecessarily long.  So, I'm dividing the support staff into two posts.  This one will deal with the animals.

I love it when I get a chance to work with animals in stories.  They make all sorts of great sounds.  The roar, screech, tweet, bellow, mew, and any number of interesting vocalizations.  They provide richness to a tale, and they make the characters real.  So, I have three animals to work with in this story.

Let us begin with the donkey.  He is the first animal we meet, and the one who starts the whole story in motion.  We are told the donkey is smart, and that it has the power to untie itself when needed.  In fact, it chooses to untie itself, and go home in the evenings.  The night the Pot Maker rides the tiger home, he is walking around in the rain with a rope...wait, there is something I seem to have forgotten from the remembered telling I got from Milbre.

On the night the Pot Maker rides the tiger home, he has tied the knot on the donkey's rope so elaborately that the donkey can't untie it, and chooses to simply back up and get out of its bridle, leaving the bridle, rope and all, tied to the post outside of the inn.  That's where the Pot Maker gets the rope to subdue the tiger.  All right.

So, the donkey chooses to leave the bridle rather than untie the impossible knot.  Does he try to untie the knot?  No.  He could, but I'm going to allow the donkey to have enough sense to forgo that part of the process.  He is smart, right?  Well, then does he struggle to get the bridle off, or does he do so calmly and logically.  Calmly, of course.  That would be funny, I think.  That means we could have a little personification that goes on with this donkey.

Okay, so, the Pot Maker ties the donkey to the post in an elaborate knot and says something like, "Get out of that, if you can." Flash from my childhood.  This is exactly what Prince John says to Sir Hiss in one of my favorite Disney movies when he ties him around a pole.  Keeping it because it evokes such a strong image in me!

 After the Pot Maker leaves, the donkey 'considers' the knot, and simply decides to leave the whole thing there.  This then is a wise donkey, not just smart, but shrewd.  Alas, having him make the donkey sound is probably not a good idea.  That sound is associated with stubbornness and foolishness and it is silly.  This dignified animal should not make such a sound...unless I can figure out how to make a dignified donkey sound.  Perhaps I could simply announce that he always was dignified, and so makes a much more subdued hee-haw sound.  Well, maybe, but probably not, though that would be funny to have a subdued, dignified hee-haw coming out of the donkey's mouth.

Now, let us move on to the Tiger.

Majestic, hungry for people, and the most personified of the animals in the story.  This tiger understands human speech.  He's used to being around people, and he has no problem coming near their homes.  When the woman starts freaking out about the insidious dripping, the tiger does not start  roaring on the porch.  He's too scared.  As his terror increases, he becomes much more needful of hiding than anything else.  When he gets so frightened he runs out into the rain, he is assailed by the Pot Maker, and he is far too terrified to make any noise at all.  That's what thinking like a human gets you.

So, the tiger isn't likely to roar either.  In fact, he's not even going to get an animal type body.  Other than becoming increasingly frightened, he doesn't need a tiger voice...well.  What about when he is thinking about the insidious dripping?  Could he have a tiger voice as he spoke out loud?  Well, that would make him sound kind of tough, and maybe dangerous, but the point is that he is almost in 'kitten' mode by the time he gets caught by the Pot Maker, so even if he begins with a gruff voice, he has to end with a squeaky, terrified one.  So, no roaring.

He will be funny, but not in any traditional way I usually make tigers funny.  This will require good timing with the old lady inside the house, and some major facial expression work more so than vocalization as a tiger.  Pauses are probably going to be huge here as well, while the audience watches the tiger's descent into blind terror.

This brings us to the war horse.

This character didn't get really developed until after I'd told the tale for the first time.  There was some things about him that I just really couldn't get behind.

Why does he run for the front?

Why doesn't he freak out when the Pot Maker is screaming on his back?

Why does he accept this poor rider?

Why does he run the scouting route instead of doing something else?  I mean, the horse has got to choose to scout the front, because the Pot Maker doesn't know how to do it, right?

The more I thought about the details of this animal, the more I got an idea about what to do with him.  Again, it took a couple of preliminary tellings before it came to me, and then, only in the midst of one of those tellings when I was feeling all of the characters, and all of these questions were still rolling around in my head.

Obviously the horse knew the route to scout, but what does the scout usually do?  The scout usually sneaks to the front, and tries not to be seen.  What if this horse is tired of that?  What if this horse wants to be a battle horse?  What if he feels like he should be a battle horse?

That's when it all came together.  This horse is descended from war horses.  His daddy was a war horse.  His granddaddy was a war horse.  His great-granddaddy was a war horse.  He, on the other hand, was only a scout horse.  Oh, how he longed to be in a battle with the horns blaring and the fight surging around him.  So, when the Pot Maker's wife slaps his rump, he rears, and the Pot Maker starts screaming, the horse thinks he is finally going to go to battle.

All right.  That means this horse is definitely making horse noises!  He's going to paw the air, shake his mane, and run for all he is worth.  Galloping noises!  Well, this is going to be dramatic, and it is the climax of the action in the story, so that's even better.  The Pot Maker can scream, and I can physicalize him holding onto the horse, and then holding the tree over his head, and the horse running for all its worth with its mane and tail flying, shouting its own war cry with the Pot Maker.  Now, there's a fun image!

So, despite wanting to ride into battle, the horse runs the scouting route, because that's all it has been trained to do.


Wow, that's a great deal to be practicing, incorporating and working with in three characters.  I didn't come to all of these conclusions in my first telling of this story.  I had some trial and error, and all of the characters are still evolving, but these are conclusions I came to after fleshing them out bit by bit, and trying to figure out what they need to fill in the background but not overpower the rest of the tale.

In the next installment, we'll deal with the people who have supporting roles.  There are no small parts...

Happy Crafting!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Crafting 101: Flesh on the Bones

There is a difference between crafting a story and just getting up and telling one.  Pretty much anyone who isn't afraid of speaking in public can get up and tell a story of some kind.  We share stories at weddings and funerals.  We share them during worship services, and amongst friends.  We share them on the radio and television. 

In this series of Blogs, I will look at a single story, and show the process I use to get from my first exposure to a tale all the way to the finished structure.

This is the third entry in the series.

The Pot Maker and The Tiger - The Story

1. Crafting 101: The Questions I Ask

2. Crafting 101:  Building The Structure

3. Flesh On The Bones

4. Crafting 101:  Donkeys and tigers and War Horses., Oh My!

5.  Crafting 101:  There Are No Little Characters...

6.  Crafting 101:  Putting It Together

7.  Crafting 101:  Introductions

Now that I have some structures on which to flesh out my story, I begin to compose the possibilities.  This means I have to flesh out each of the different relationships that interest me, play with the characters, and see what I come up with in the end.

My first cut and dry possibilities, generated by the structures I identified are as follows:

1.  The pot maker is somewhat of a hapless fellow.  He accidentally rides the tiger home.  His wife realizes the potential for fame or gain, and sends word to the Raja about the tiger.  The pot maker is rewarded for his bravery and made an honorary general.  When the army comes to attack, and he is recruited to become an actual general and scout the front, his wife convinces him he can do it.  He falls in line with the story, and scouts the front with the tree, becomes a hero in spite of his shortcomings.  At the end, the wife takes a victory lap, the husband is also happy, and goes back to the factory where everyone appreciates him even more.

2.  The pot maker is a good natured fellow who accidentally rides the tiger home.  He lies about how he captured it.  His wife warns him that such lies will only get him into trouble.  He dismisses her concerns, 'What trouble can come from this?'  The story he tells gets bigger during the telling until the Raja himself hears of it, rewards the Pot Maker, and promotes him to honorary general.  His wife points out that this is just the sort of trouble she feared.  The Pot Maker dismisses her concern, 'What trouble can come from this?'.  When the army comes, he is in despair. His wife once again points out that this is the type of trouble she feared, but now he agrees.  Between them, they concoct a plan so that he will not have to scout the front.  Unfortunately, when his wife slaps the back of the horse, instead of just moving, it takes off for the front, and he accidentally scouts the front despite his best efforts.  After the war is over, the two of them are happy to be alive and the Pot Maker goes back to the factory, a little wiser but full of many more stories.

3.  The pot maker is a braggart who accidentally rides the tiger home.  Full of himself, he begins to believe the stories he tells about how he captured the tiger.  He sends a message to the Raja, telling some wild tale about how he caught the tiger.  The Raja sends for him, makes him an honorary general.  His wife goes along with it, but warns him it could be dangerous to put himself forward like this.  When he is made a general, and made to scout the front, she does an I told you so, which makes the pot maker more determined than ever to scout the front.  Despite his bravado, he is terrified, and can't ride the horse without her help.  She does help him and he scouts the front with the tree, accidentally stops the war, and comes home a hero.  His wife doesn't get on his case as much, but he, realizing that he dodged the proverbial bullet, becomes a more humble person who has a mostly real story to tell.

4.  The pot maker is a storyteller who tells amusing tales.  He rides the tiger home by accident; tells a good story about the how and why of his capture.  His wife is exasperated, but she sees no harm in it, and lets it stand. Story gets to the Raja.  Raja makes him an honorary general.  When the scout horse comes, his wife is exasperated again, but the pot maker comes up with a plan to not scout the front.  Unfortunately, his plan goes awry, he ends up scouting the front anyway, stops the war and becomes a hero.  He goes back to the factory, a hero who now has a rapt audience, and what storyteller doesn't want that?

5.  The pot maker's wife believes he is capable of anything, and worships the ground on which he walks.  The day after he rides the tiger home, she makes him out to be a hero to their neighbors.  The story spreads until the Raja comes to hear of it.  He calls the pot maker to the palace and makes him an honorary general.  The pot maker can hardly believe the tale that is told of him, but since he likes a good story, he doesn't quibble with the details.  When the Raja sends the scout horse, the wife lets everyone know her husband is more than up to the task.  Trying to live up to the impossible image she has, he agrees to scout the front, but he needs her to tie him to the horse.  She does, and sends him off at top speed.  He scouts the front, becomes a hero, and she is the only one who isn't surprised, because she has always believed in him.  He goes back to making pots, telling tales, laughing at strangeness of life, and everyone is happy.

There are, obviously, other variants you could wrest from the story, but these are the ones I explored
Putting the flesh on these bones takes much longer than any other part of the process; for me anyway.

I don't worry about how long the tale is during the fleshing out phase.  I'm not even trying to tell the story as a whole.  I may spend several days telling just a piece of it to myself, and trying to visualize the images and get the characters and place set in my mind.

I will practice dialogue runs that I know aren't going to make it into the story, but listening to the characters interact can help me figure out what bits of business, types of language, and physical characteristics to give the characters.

 This is the phase of story crafting that convinces the outside world that my elevator doesn't go all the way to the top floor.  I tell to myself in the car, mopping the floor, doing dishes, putting away the laundry, and anyplace else I happen to be.  My family doesn't even ask anymore; they understand I'm crafting out loud.

There are some people who write out their stories word for word, but I do not do that at this phase, or sometimes at all.  I need the characters to remain fluid so I can explore, change, and experience them.  If I want them to be real on stage and in my body, then I have to make them real for me, and get my body to shape itself into theirs.

Here are the steps.

Step 1: Explore the characters: what makes sense?

This is about how these characters interact.  I may very well spend an hour while I'm mopping the floor imagining arguments, outings, or what sort of life the pot maker and his wife have with each other.  This is when I'll decide how old they are, what sort of relationship they have, what their home looks like, what sorts of things the do, how their neighbors regard them, and lots of other things that will come into play on what choices the characters make later.  I'll create arguments, how they met, whether they were happy about their arranged match...which is what it most likely was, or if they chose each other, and what sort of dreams they may or may not have had.  I am a writer, and I like to play with characters.  It is what makes them very real for me.

Step 2: Explore the scenarios: What flows from all of the info I have about the two of them?

While considering the various scenarios, I think about the fact that when I first heard this story it was funny.  I liked the fact that it was funny.  Some of the scenarios lend themselves to be funny, some do not.  I could certainly make this story more serious, which I discovered when I started running down the scenarios with different types of personality traits and marital choices between the pot maker and his wife.  I also discovered that the pot maker and his wife could turn into conniving, scheming, really unlikable characters.  You never know where a scenario can take you until you go far down the path, and take it to pretty bizarre lengths.  Staying out of the dark was an important thing for me with this tale.  I do have some really dark material, but that is not what I am going for in this tale.

Step 3:  Begin shaping the story incorporating the various choices that seemed to work best

Start putting the actual scenario in the story together using the tone I want, the characteristics of the main characters that feel right, and incorporate the relationship between husband and wife that I think move the story along while remembering that this story is funny, and I want it to remain so.

It is not uncommon for me to change my mind pretty frequently about what the main characters are doing or saying while in this stage.  Their conversations are much longer than what will make it into the actual story, and I linger here to make sure that when I start cutting things down to two or three line exchanges you still get what kind of relationship you are seeing.

Sometimes this is a very cut and dry experience, done in a few hours, and sometimes this process can take me years.  I sat on the Pot Maker and the Tiger for almost three years before I started telling it.

The longer I work with the characters of a given range of story possibilities, they begin to blend and change until I've got some characteristics of each scenario blended into the relationship that seems to work best to me.

So, at this point I have answered a number of my primary questions, I've built some structure, I've set the main character and his primary relationship pretty firmly in my head, and I'm pretty sure I know how the Pot Maker got into this situation, and why he did what he did.  Excellent!

What's next?

Time to bring in the secondary characters, and figure out just how much characterization of each of them I need or want in this tale.  Voices, sound effects, characterizations and more.

Happy Crafting!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Crafting 101: Building The Structure

There is a difference between crafting a story and just getting up and telling one.  Pretty much anyone who isn't afraid of speaking in public can get up and tell a story of some kind.  We share stories at weddings and funerals.  We share them during worship services, and amongst friends.  We share them on the radio and television. 

In this series of Blogs, I will look at a single story, and show the process I use to get from my first exposure to a tale all the way to the finished structure.

This is the second entry in the series.

The Pot Maker and The Tiger - The Story

1. Crafting 101: The Questions I Ask

2. Crafting 101:  Building The Structure

3. Crafting 101:  Flesh On The Bones

4. Crafting 101:  Donkeys and tigers and War Horses., Oh My!

5.  Crafting 101:  There Are No Little Characters....

6.  Crafting 101:  Putting It Together

7.  Crafting 101:  Introductions!

In order to build structure in a story, I consider all of the characters, the theme of the story, and what I think the story could be trying to say.  This requires me to think about the main characters in several different incarnations, and consider what makes the story work.  I also need to consider what direction I want to take the tale.  

Now for the blueprints of my tale

1.  What do I know about the main character in this story?

He likes to tell stories.  He makes pots.  He actually becomes the hero of a story.  He goes back to making pots. 

Is he a braggart? Is he a bully?  He might be, but I don't like telling stories where mean people barge their way into fame and fortune.

Is he hapless?  He could be, but I'm not interested in telling stories about hapless characters.

Is he someone who gets himself into a situation and rises to the occasion, albeit in a hilarious way?  Maybe.  

Unlikely hero stuff would work for this story.  In the end, he scouts the front to the best of his ability - he just doesn't have much ability.

His bite is worse than his bark.

When he is faced with scouting the front, he decides to do his best, and it works out for the best.  

Then again, maybe he is a bit hapless.  Maybe he blunders into his situation.

Perhaps he never rises to the occasion at all.  Maybe he is a good natured fellow who bites off more than he can chew and circumstance runs away with him.  Maybe he just can't resist a good story, and when he finds himself in this one, it carries him off before he realizes what is happening.

Why would he actually scout the front?  Bravery?  Bravado?  They might kill him, after all, and I doubt he would really want that to happen.

Is he willing to die for his stories?  I don't know.

Wait.  Maybe this poor guy is just the victim of a couple of accidents.  What if scouting the front was an accident, just like riding the tiger? At least that's consistent.  

Where does that take me?

What if he didn't mean to scout the front?  What if he had enough sense to know he wasn't qualified for the job, but was trying to put the best face on it?

What if he was going to not scout the front, and rely on his storytelling skills to pretend he had?


This was definitely an accident, but what about my pot maker?

So, I have some places to begin.  Some of the above scenarios have some potential.  Let's see what else is in this story. 

2. What is the natural frame of this story?

In the beginning there is a man who makes pots and tells stories.  A whole bunch of stuff happens to him.  In the end there is a man who makes pots and tells stories.

Okay, well that's easy for me.  This is the whole 'there's no place like home' thing.

3.  Supporting Cast

Now, with some possible places to take the main character, and a frame, I start looking at the supporting cast, and see what I can make of them.

The donkey.  

He's a smart donkey.  He stays at the factory, but he comes home when tied to the inn.  Why?  Is he tired?  Annoyed?  Why does he stay at the factory all day?  Do I need to articulate any of this to an audience or can I just introduce him and make him smart?  The fact that he unties himself in the evening is funny.  Do I actually need to know what he does at the factory?  Can I just let him be a funny donkey who unties himself, setting up the gag of the pot maker riding the tiger home?  Don't need to know that right now.  After I start telling the story I'll see how the donkey shapes up, but I can always revisit any of this.  Of course, it might make the set up of the story take too long.  Sheesh, I'll keep it bare boned for now.

The Wife
Is she one of those women who laments that her husband has no ambition?

Does she lament her husband's storytelling?
Is she good natured about it, or is she fed up?
Is she long suffering?
Is she playful?
Does she encourage his daydreaming?
Has she bought into the stories?
Does she expect him to be a hero, her hero?
Does she believe in everything he does?
Is she looking to make him get ahead in life?

The wife could have a much bigger and more interesting role in this tale if I cast her in specific ways. 

It would be fun to have her be the one to send the Raja the letter explaining about the tiger, or stepping in and announcing that her husband is the best scout in the area.

Maybe she's as big or bigger of a storyteller than he is.  

She could even be the one who gives the pot maker whatever plan he is going to try other than scouting the front.

She could even have a recurring complaint or refrain.  Perhaps she could throw her hands up and say, 'Get your head out of the clouds!' or 'What were you thinking?' or 'Dream bigger!' or 'If only we did live in a story!' or  'Tomorrow could be better!'  

Wait!  Maybe the pot maker himself could have a repeating refrain of 'Tomorrow could be better!'  Or something like that!  Yes.....

Wait, I've gone far afield.  

This story is full of disparate elements, and non repetitious events.  I could add some kind of repetition for the audience to pull it together, but unless I'm presenting this to elementary audiences, I don't think it will add anything to the story. 

Repetitive elements would cue a younger audience when an episode is about to change.  This is a great 'reading strategy device' that helps emerging readers learn to recognize patterns in different kinds of literature.  So, am I developing this story with some elements of working with elementary kids in mind?

Do I want to try this on with elementary?  I don't think so.  I like it for a slightly older audience.

So I'm not even going to try elementary school?  Okay.  That makes things easier.  We'll assume that sixth grade is the youngest group who will encounter this tale.

Well, if I am dropping this in middle school, then I will stop the audience participation.  it isn't that you can't get middle school kids to participate, I have a number of tales where they do, but this one doesn't really need it. 

Then again, Just because I don't see it playing younger than 11 doesn't mean it won't.  It just means that at this juncture I can't see it. 

Back to building.

The tiger?  

Well, he's full of himself and unafraid right up until the time he hears the woman begin to complain about the insidious dripping.  That one, at least, is easy.

The old woman with the dripping roof needs some moxie.   She's got a quavery voice, and she is grouchy.  She starts out muttering, but her voice gets louder and louder as she prepares for the dripping to start.

The Scout Horse.  Well, we know what he does, he goes tearing up to the front at top speed.

Finally, what terms or words might need some explanation in the body of the text?


What does a scout do?


What kind of pots does this pot maker make, and why do they have a factory for it?

Man eating tigers?  Most people won't have a problem with this, but we'll see

Okay, now I've got some places to start building.  At this point I have no idea how the story is going to shape itself into a tale since I have so many different ways I could go. 

By the way, which way would you take this? 

Happy Crafting!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Crafting 101: The Questions I ask

There is a difference between crafting a story and just getting up and telling one.  Pretty much anyone who isn't afraid of speaking in public can get up and tell a story of some kind.  We share stories at weddings and funerals.  We share them during worship services, and amongst friends.  We share them on the radio and television.

In this series of Blogs, I will look at a single story, and show the process I use to get from my first exposure to a tale all the way to the finished structure.

This entry will deal with my first exposure and the questions I grapple with before I do anything else.

The first storytelling class I took was taught by Nancy Donoval.  She was putting together a piece of story theatre, and she needed actors who could also rock some storytelling.  It was fascinating and it opened me up to an entire art form I never even knew you could spend your life pursuing.

Nancy Donoval doing her thing
Rives Collins was my next teacher.  I spent two years at his feet soaking up any and all of the information he cared to offer.  He shaped my understanding of solid story structure, helped me begin to identify the types of stories that drew me, and gave me an incredible platform on which to build my career.

My mentor at Northwestern University, Rives Collins

My next teacher was Donald Davis.  I spent a summer as a scribe in one of Donald's classes.  I learned a great deal from watching him work a fictional story based on his life into a performance piece.  I also began to understand that this was not going to be a type of storytelling in which I would specialize.  As much as I enjoyed it, telling stories from my own life on stage does not interest me overly much.

The Amazing Donald Davis

I'm pretty sure that's because I like really far fetched fantastical stories.  The less reality the better.  That's the kind of literature I like to read.  Those are the movies I like to watch.  If I could see it on a street corner, I don't want to read about it, tell it or watch it.  This is just a personal preference.

A few years ago I took a master class with Bil Lepp on crafting, which I found fascinating since my brain doesn't work like that at all.  This coming summer I will be taking a class from Bill Harley mostly just because.  I mean, who doesn't want to spend a few hours playing with Bill Harley?

So, how do you craft a story?  Well, that depends entirely upon who you are and what kinds of stories you tell.  Here is the method I use.

First, I identify a tale I'd like to tell.  Some years ago I called Milbre Burch and asked if she had a story she could share with me.  She told me this old story called The Pot Maker and The Tiger.  Click the link to read a very quick and dirty version of the story.

The marvelous Milbre Burch

Okay, where to start?

- Do I like this story?  Yes.  This is important, and obvious.  Don't tell stories you don't like.

- Do you know any variants of this tale?  No. I'd never heard of this story before.  I liked the variant Milbre told me, so I decided to work on it from there before I went to find other sources.

When I get stories out of books, I like to read as many variants as I can, when I get them from people, I like to build on the feeling, cadence, and flow that they give me when I first get the story.  Later, I will go back and see if I can find some variants.  Sometimes I get new material from these written versions, but most of the time, I find the hardest bit of the work has already been done by the teller who gave me permission to tell the story, and the worst of the clunkiness is left on the page where it belongs.

- Do you connect with this story on some level?  Yes.  It tickled me a great deal, and I wanted to explore it.

Great!  Now I've got the story.  What's next?

First - Who is this story for?

Well, I wouldn't tell this tale to anybody below the 3rd grade because it has far too many plot twists in it.  Most little kids won't follow this very well.  Some can, certainly, but most will be lost.

There is also the fact that there are elements in this tale that require a certain amount of knowledge in order to be understood by an American audience.  How much background do I need to give, and can it be done in the body of the tale as I tell it?

Second - What are the beats in this tale?

Where are the obvious funny bits?

What kind of pacing does it need?

When does the audience need a break from all of this nonsense?

when do I need to drive a point home?

Third - What is the feel of this story?

What sort of tone does this tale have?  Does it need to be broken up into 'chapters' or is it a story told seamlessly.  In other words, is there some, 'Meanwhile' that actually needs to be said, or does it have more of an, all of this is happening over time feel?

Is it serious in places, or is the whole thing completely farcical?

Fourth - How much interior structure do I add as a teller to make this story feel authentic to me?

Do I need to add explanations?

How much character enhancement do I need?

How much do I do in the way of sound effects?

Are there parts that need more wallowing?

What sort of structure does this story need to be graspable by different ages?

Fifth - What is the audience's job during this tale?

Are they just watching the whole thing?

Is there some type of audience participation?

Is there some kind of repeating phrase or idea?

Sixth - Last and most important; how do I introduce this tale?

Does it need another story to introduce it?

Does it need some kind of personal narrative?

Does it need just some geographical info?

What do I think this story is about, and what do I want the audience to focus on in the back of their minds as I tell it?

So, before I stand it up and start telling it to myself, I begin grappling with these ideas.

Posts in Crafting 101

1. Questions I Ask
2. Crafting 101:  Building the Structure
3. Crafting 101:  Flesh On The Bones
4. Crafting 101:  Donkeys and tigers and War Horses., Oh My!
5.  Crafting 101:  There Are No Little Characters
6.  Crafting 101:  Putting It Together
7.  Crafting 101: Introductions!

Happy Crafting!!!