Friday, April 15, 2011

"SHOW" Me Your Cube!

You've heard it before.  "Show, don't tell."
You must create an experience for your readers.  You cannot simply state something and expect them to believe it.

"The dice were fuzzy." 

That doesn't quite cut it.  If the reader isn't engaged, then you have lost them.  It's the equivalent of a first date checking out her nails while you're blathering on about yourself.

How do you engage the reader?  Show them your story.

Skilled teachers are aware of some students' kinesthetic learning process.  These students "learn by doing" rather than being lectured to.  If you can tap into the tactile senses of your reader, then you create a complete experience for them.  You can "show" them your story rather than lecture and "tell" them your story.

I'll take a stab at this and try to "show" you the fuzzy dice:

"Those fuzzy dice.  Overstuffed and bulging like the cabbie's distended belly.  Those fuzzy dice filling the taxi cab with pine needles to mask his man odors.  Sarah retched at those fuzzy dice.  The faux antiseptic cleanliness intensified the minerally taste of bile in her mouth.  If she could reach them without alarming the cabbie, she would punch those fuzzy dice.  Those fuzzy dice dangled from the mirror and taunted her like Robert's sickly manhood.  Oh, how she wished she had had the strength to fight back them.  Her knuckles could have judged just how fuzzy his manhood was."

Just reading "the dice were fuzzy" might be enough to visualize them in your head.  But is it the complete picture of the dice hanging in the grimy cab?  Does it draw you into the context of the story?  "Showing" can do this better than "telling".

Remember, "showing" is about experiencing the story.  We experience the world through our senses.  To help you remember the important senses to draw your readers into your work, all you need is a Rubik's Cube.  Each side can be a memory marker for "showing".

1.  Sight:  We see with our minds.  We read a story and inevitably picture what is going on in on much like a movie playing.

2. Hearing:  Sound, not just dialogue, but even the sounds of words can further engage a reader.

3. Smell:  I don't know of any scratch-n-sniff novels.  So maybe the sense of smell is not right for every situation.  But scents are linked strongly to memories, and that is something you can use in your writing.

4. Taste:  We spend a great deal of our lives eating, so the sense of taste can be used to illustrate an important part of the story.

5. Touch:  I suppose there are books written in Braille.  But what is the experience of tracing a feather across a lover's arm?  The sense of touch helps the readers to see this.  And this leads us to our final and most important side of the Rubik's Cube.

6. Emotion:  Of course it's not really one of the five senses, but it is the most important element of story.  To "show" a reader what your story is about is to engage their emotions.

Use the Rubik's Cube to do a "showing" writing exercise.

Set a scene.  Describe a character.  Now, roll the Rubik's Cube like dice and try to focus on the "sense" that turns up.  Don't ignore the others.  But work to link each back to the emotional tone you are trying to achieve with your piece.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Want to Learn Story Structure? Solve the Rubik's Cube!

What can the Rubik's Cube teach you about story structure?  Just about everything you need to know to create dramatic stories!

Most beginners will learn to solve the Rubik's Cube with a layer-by-layer method.  Simply put, you solve the cube like stacking layers of a wedding cake.  Solve the first layer, then the middle layer, and then the last layer.  Poof.  It's solved!  Easy as 1,2,3.

Good things come in threes, right?  Well, this simple 3-layer Rubik's Cube method can help you remember the most common story structure.  You've probably heard the old adage that a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  What this really means is a story must have the following three fundamental elements:
  1. A conflict
  2. Character(s) struggling to overcome the problem
  3. The resolution (either won or lost)
That's it.  Include these basic elements and you have a story.

For example:

What is the conflict?
I want to solve this puzzle, but there are 43,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible ways to further mess it up.

What is the struggle?
I plan to solve the puzzle one layer at a time.  Complications arise.  If I try to solve the pieces in the middle layer, I risk messing up the first layer pieces.

What is the resolution?
My actions bring me to a turning point.  I now have two layers solved.  Here, the stakes are highest.  With every move to solve the remaining pieces, I might have to start over from the beginning.  I am fully committed and must risk it all to move forward.  I will reach a final resolution.  On the one hand, I may achieve my goal and solve the cube successfully.  On the other, I may not, and I chuck it against the wall in frustration.  Either way:  "The End".  The story is resolved.

You'll find these three elements in almost every classic story, from "Romeo and Juliet" to "Cinderella".  The amazing thing about Shakespeare is he didn't have the Rubik's Cube as a guide and yet he still wrote masterful stories.