Granite and Rainbow

In English on אפריל 18, 2010 at 4:05 pm
How to write a captivating story with 'dry facts'

The title of this exercise is taken from an essay by the English writer Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), in which she proposes a new way of writing life stories: 'The New Biography'. This came out of Modernism, the literary style she wrote in. Instead of the boring, thick tomes of elaborate retellings of famous people's lives, extolling their virtues, writers began to attune to readers, to give them a more varied and human impression of the lives of the characters they wrote about. These new biographies were much shorter and captivating, because the authors chose  out of the 'sea of facts' only those they found relevant to their story and used storytelling techniques, in which personal viewpoints of the writers also came to the fore. In this way they created vivid portraits out of a mixture of facts and fiction, better to express character and atmosphere, instead of a list of dry facts.
Those among us who engage in capturing and writing up of memories of our 'past' world – which is going past with each passing day – in order that the following generations will know something about it, may be interested in using this way of writing, following in a step-by step manner.
The order of the steps is not important and you can choose to use only the elements that suit your purpose.
– Identify the 'bare facts' – the granite of the title – you have at your disposal about the subject or the person(s) you want to write about, like dates of birth, addresses etc.
– Which of these 'facts' are verifyable by external sources, like official documents, and which are  stories you heard from family members or friends, only preserved by people's memories (=oral history)?
– Choose from the facts only the ones relevant to the story you want to write. Often it is a good idea to mention some wider historical context in your story: in which country does it take place; in which period; what was going on at the time in the world, or the continent, that influenced the atmosphere, the culture, the spirit of the time? This kind of information will assist the reader in putting your story into a context of time and place.
– Find ways of storyteling to link the granite-pebbles of facts you have chosen to become a streamlined and captivating story. Allow yourself the poetic licence – 'the rainbow' – to provide what the facts cannot show: people's voices, their possible thoughts and feelings. Imagine yourself stepping into the shoes of your character(s) and from that position put words in their mouths. You could also quote from their letters or diaries and bring some of these texts alive in the form of monologues or dialogues of the characters.
– This poetic licence takes us a little further from the known facts, but brings us closer to the reader and also to our own capacity to better understand the persons we are writing about.
– Another result of this freedom is the discovery that we can write more than one story about an event, a period, a person, a family. From the moment we start to weave together strands of granite (facts) and rainbow (our creative additions), we discern that there are many ways to do the weaving. We may write alternative narratives, create different versions from more than one perspective, all based on the same group of granite-pebbles.

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