Monday, March 2, 2015

S is for Story, True or Not

I join my fellow bloggers in welcoming award-winning nonfiction writer Carla Killough McClafferty to TeachingAuthors.com.

I write this post enormously grateful for how smart each fellow blogger has made me these past two weeks thanks to her posts that addressed the telling of our stories, whether true or not.

As I read Mary Ann’s, April’s, Bobbi’s and JoAnn’s posts, all I could think about was the tiny blue Post-It Note I’d affixed long ago to my first desk-top computer: “It’s the STORY, stupid!”

We are, as Kendall Haven wrote, story animals; we are, as Lisa Cron tells us, wired for story.

This truth both grabbed and guided me while writing – forgive the coincidence – S IS FOR STORY: A WRITER’S ALPHABET (Sleeping Bear Press).
I’d originally titled this abecedarian book W IS FOR WRITING.  Brainstorming with my CPS Alcott School fifth graders helped me choose writing-associated words to represent the letters A through Z.  But even once I fine-tuned those choices to ensure they totally embraced the writing information I needed and wanted to share, I knew those twenty-six words in no way told a story.

And they needed to, if I was to pull in readers and keep them turning the pages.

My fifth-grader Alberto said it best.  “You should change the title,” he boldly advised me.  “W IS FOR WRITING sounds like a textbook.  I’d never want to buy it.  But if you call it “W IS FOR WRITER,” he added, “I’ll think you wrote a book about me.”

Alberto wanted hard facts, inspiration and encouragement.  But most of all, he wanted – and expected – a story about writers with which he could connect.

So here’s what I did to tell that story:

(1)   First I thought about my take-away, what I wanted my reader thinking when he closed the book – i.e. writers are readers!  

(2)   Next I thought about what I wanted my reader thinking while he was reading my descriptive and explanatory poems and sidebars – i.e. young writers and award-winning authors share the very same writing process!

(3)  I then made sure the true facts I chose to include - about children’s books, about children’s book authors, about the writing process– served as concrete details that supported my story's take-away’s.

(4)  Finally, I did my best to create a narrative arc, addressing the reader while moving him from the all-encompassing people, they and their in the beginning alphabet pages….


to the inclusive we, us and our in the middle pages


 to the focused you and your in the final pages.
  

Thanks to Alberto, my twenty-six letters told a story - of a writer's life and process, A through Z.

Happy STORY-telling!

Esther Hershenhorn

6 comments:

Pen N. InkBlog said...

Love the idea of this book. And the illustrations are great. I, too, believe everyone has a story to tell.
Susan at Pen and Ink.

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thanks, Susan, for stopping by and taking the time to comment.
I too believe everyone has a story to tell!

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thanks, Susan, for stopping by and taking the time to comment.
I too believe everyone has a story to tell!

Carla Killough McClafferty said...

Thank you Esther, and all the other TA for welcoming me to this group.

I love this post because it once again shows the power of the story even in an ABC book.

Damon Dean said...

Thanks for a great post Esther. Truly the process is the same for me or even the most successful writer! Our stories are worth telling, and your post encourages us to share them. I've learned to trust the process to handle my progress.

And glad to see you joining this team of teachers, Carla!

Carmela Martino said...

Loved this reminder of why I LOVE S IS FOR STORY so much!