27 Mar

Difficult characters, difficult topics

Do you have a difficult story you want to tell? You know–abuse, alcoholism, rape, etc. We all know good examples where these topics are handled well; but it’s hard to do. How to approach it?

Inviting the Wolf In

As I’m working on new stories this month, I’m casting a wider net in my reading and stopped by my local library to browse. And I found this book: Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking About Difficult Stories by Loren Niemi and Elizabeth Ellis.

The book is by two storytellers, published by August House (formerly of Little Rock!), who concentrates its publishing program within the storytelling community.

That’s OK. What Niemi and Ellis manage to do is give a storyteller/writer ways to approach difficult topics, specifically how to slant the story in different ways.

For example, one of their suggestions is to write a continuum of an emotional reaction over a lifetime.
So, you might fill in a chart like this for JEALOUSY:

Time of Life What Happened Effect
Early childhood
later childhood
teen
adult
whatever’s next

Of course, you can modify to fit the needs of your story. Maybe each row is a day in the story, or a month in the life of a teen.

What it gives you is a possiblity of building the emotional arc with concrete images.

When Ellis did this, and journaled about jealousy, she came up with a story about her freshman year in college. Of course, there was the Perfect Girl: beautiful, smart, rich, gets the best guys, etc. Ellis turned green. And when Perfect Girl found herself pregnant, and had to drop out of school and get married (this dates Ellis, doesn’t it?), the Ellis went to every person in the dorm and casually told them about Perfect Girl’s problem. In confidence, of course, with the admonition not to tell anyone else.

Ellis admitted her guilt in the matter, and found a slant which she could tell–a way into story.

I’m finding this book helpful, as I think about what to write next.

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