Monday, November 19, 2012

The Story for the Trees

     I'm sorry, dear readers, but I simply can't master the haiku, or as the rest of my TA's are sharing with you in the next several posts, the "thanku."  Ironic, actually, because the subject of my thanks post taught me how to assemble the "bones" of a story.  Up to that point, I belonged to the Theodore Dreiser School of Writing . . . more is better. I like to create whole worlds when I write.  Sometimes my worlds contain way too much extraneous detail that doesn't "move the story along."

     "Does it move the story along" is the mantra given to me by my Vermont College mentor, Marion Dane Bauer. I was writing Yankee Girl in the Vermont MFA program and I was determined to recreate the world of 1964 Mississippi as accurately as possible.  Marion showed me I was burying my story in words, details and characters that just weren't necessary.

     I was not a particularly willing student. I like lots of detail in my stories. Marion, on the other hand,is the Hemingway of children's literature. She writes simply and to the point, not a word wasted (which is also a good description of Marion-the-person.) Finally, Marion suggested I read her book, On My Honor, a Newbery Honor winner. (I learned that information from the book cover, not from Marion.)

    If you ever need a blueprint for how to "move a story along," read On My Honor. In under a hundred pages Marion introduces her two main characters, sets up a moral dilemma and ratchets up the tension to a spare but shocking climax, and a satisfactory, but complex conclusion. Each action, each word flows into the next, not a word wasted.

    So to prove that I've learned my lesson, I am keeping this post short. Thank you (if not a "thanku") to Marion Dane Bauer, for showing me the way out of my "word wilderness."

    Who to you want to "thanku"?  Let us know.   See Jill's last post for details.

    Oh, and one more person I am thankful for!   It's been a tough writing year for me, but knowing that every other Monday someone out there is logging on to TeachingAuthors to see what I
have to say. You have kept me writing. Thank you!

     Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


Jeanette W. Stickel said...

Thank you for your consistent posts and insights!

Linda B said...

Hi Mary Ann! I do love your posts, too, & those from everyone else. I will be sure to look for On My Honor for a good way to learn not to use so many words! Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Esther Hershenhorn said...

ThankU, Mary Ann, for introducing our readers to one of my Writing Heroines, Marian Dane Bauer.
I recommend her book for young writers - WHAT'S YOUR STORY? (Clarion, 1992) - to my U. of Chicago Writer's Studio students. On the shelf, it sits next to Aristotle on Plot; of the two, it's the one that helps the writer - get - plot. :)