Stories Within Stories

I have quite the addiction to stories.  Which is probably why I love movies, books, or plays that are centered around storytelling.

The most recent of these treasures came rather unexpectedly.  I was meandering through the lines of movies on Netflix, looking for something to entertain me while I ate lunch.  A rather surrealist movie cover caught my attention.

The FallDescription via IMDB:

In a hospital on the outskirts of 1920s Los Angeles, an injured stuntman begins to tell a fellow patient, a little girl with a broken arm, a fantastical story about 5 mythical heroes. Thanks to his fractured state of mind and her vivid imagination, the line between fiction and reality starts to blur as the tale advances.

What I love about this type of plot, is the blending of fantasy and reality.  These stories especially capture my attention when in the form of film.  The visual aspects of blending realities is much easier to follow than in books.  Although I must say I haven’t read too many books like this.  Inkspell by Cornelia Funke, being the only one I can think of off the top of my head.

As far as movies go I can think of  The Fall, Big Fish, The Science of Sleep, Pan’s Labyrinth, MirrorMask, The Wizard of Oz, The Pagemaster, and Alice in Wonderland, as well as many others I’m sure I’m missing/haven’t watched.

I think what draws me in most to these stories, is that when I was little I so wished I could become a part of a story.  I wanted all the fantastical things to be true, and happen to me.  So when I see a film where the characters have become a part of a story or another fantasy world, I can’t help but enjoy it.

What kind of stories draw you in?



StoryCorps: You’ll Laugh, Cry, and Want More

So last week I posted about how I enjoy stories of all kinds.  This week I’d like to share with you this wonderful organization called StoryCorps.  If you haven’t heard about it yet, well, prepare to be enthralled.  Here is what their official site has to say:

StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 40,000 interviews from nearly 80,000 participants.

Along with recording all of these stories, they also put several animated versions of interviews on YouTube.

I cannot put into words how much these personal stories have touched me.   Whether they make you laugh, like the interview about a Sunday School teacher, or make you cry, like the story of a loved one lost on 9/11, these stories are worth listening to.  They’re captivating, heartbreaking, touching, uplifting, and inspirational.   Stories at their finest.

I whole-heartedly recommend that you guys check out their website and YouTube channel.  But beware:  I hardly ever cry, but half of the four minute animations make me start bawling by the end of them.

Exhibit A: The story of Danny and Annie.  This is my favorite of their animated stories, and it’s so touching, I cry every time I watch it(which is a lot).  So grab the tissues!

In Our Younger, Wilder Days

I love hearing stories from people.  Not just bedtime fairy tales either.  I like to hear about where people grew up, their family stories, vacation stories, school stories.

I think this began when I was young, about 6 years old or so.  My dad was telling a story about his youth.  You see, he grew up on a farm in California, raised by his Filipino father along with 5(?) brothers. (I can never keep track.)  His family was working in the orchards picking apples.  He and his younger brother were still too small to help out, so  my grandfather took a huge apple bin and flipped it over on top of my dad and my uncle.  That was their play pen until the crew was done in a particular area.  Then, they would pick up the bin, move it to the next area, and flip it back over the two boys.

It was around that time that I realized my parents had been children at some point.  They had histories, memories, and stories that I had no idea about.  Lucky for me, my dad is a natural born story-teller and he loves talking, sharing, and being the center of attention.  Also, luckily, he along with my mom had quite wild youths, although a good part of me believes part of it has to do with their entire generation.

So when I came home from school after learning about Alcatraz Island, my dad was there to tell me about how, during the Native American Occupation of the Island, he had stayed there for two weeks.  You see, it was the early 1970’s and the Native Americans were rising up against the US Government for their rights.  My uncle (my dad’s eldest half brother, full Native American) was a dock guard for Alcatraz, and my dad, about 20 at the time, decided to visit him, and ended up staying.

I can tell you, that story has come in handy for school reports. 😉  First hand accounts of taking back Alcatraz are difficult to find these days.

Or you know, there’s my mom’s younger and wilder days.  She doesn’t speak about them much, so I have to work harder to hear her stories.  My grandfather worked for Union Oil and moved around a lot when she was young.  She spent 2 years of high school living in Singapore, and the other 2 years of high school living in South Korea.

One day she surprised me with a story about how, her senior year of high school, her and her friends took a boat to Japan to explore, only to find out that it was a national holiday and all the shops were closed.  And whenever we shop at Asian Food Markets with her, she likes to point out the Korean packages and tries to decipher the labels.  She can pronounce the characters, but has no idea what they mean.  It always reminds her of silly phrases she learned overseas.

My point is, my parents can out-story-tell me any day of the week.  They have such history, especially from their younger, wilder days.  Which made me think, what unique stories do I have to tell?

I can talk about how I disliked my high school so much, I became a full time college student at 16, effectively skipping junior and senior year of high school.  I could talk about how I was the only child in my family to live on a university campus in the dorms.  How I dyed my hair a purple color, but didn’t like it, so my friends had a hair-dying party and dyed it blue- NOT to my knowledge, they told me it was going to be black.  I promptly chopped it off into a fauxhawk, then dyed it red.

Or there’s that time, my roommate and I went to Moscow, Idaho in order to watch the Gay Pride Parade, and we unknowingly ended up marching in the parade.  And one time, my friend, my boyfriend and I were driving to across Washington State for the Seattle Emerald City Comic Con.  But three hours into the drive, my friends car broke down.  We were stranded, in the cold, in the pitch black, on a highway that none of us had ever been on before, so we had no idea where we even were.  Then, as if by fate, a car pulled up behind us. Except, they had broken down too, in the exact same spot, in the exact same situation, and with a Mazda, which is what my friend had. Luckily we managed to get a tow before it started to snow, by the nicest tow-truck driver named Henry.  But we still missed the comic con, and had to stay in a ghetto Motel 8.

I guess, if I think about it, I have more stories to tell than I thought.  Most of the funny or exciting ones happened on accident.  At the time some of them weren’t that great, but they make for entertaining stories.

So what stories do you guys love to share with people?

Also, because I promised, I have to.  This was me in MY younger and wilder days.  (Read: 3 years ago)

Cockatoo hair! Note: This was taken under my lofted bed in the dorms, inside my massive fort I built, which DID stay up all year. Best dorm room ever.

My brother messed up my short hair, so I stole his hat to cover it.

Forcing vs. Flowing in Writing

In my experience there are two ways to write.

Example 1. You frantically scribble away on the nearest napkin as inspiration strikes you at a very inopportune moment, and you’re left with a smudged copy to store away for the next month before you’re inspired enough to revisit it.

Example 2. You sit down at your desk and stare at the computer screen until your fingers begrudgingly begin to type.  Before you know it you have a very, very, rocky draft that vaguely resembles the scenery you meant to describe, and is left as such until you force yourself to edit it.

Pretty obvious which one is ‘going with the flow’ writing as opposed to ‘forced’ writing.  What isn’t so obvious?  Which one produces better writing.

I have arguments for both styles.  Ultimately I think it’s up to the writer to decide a certain combination of the two that works for them personally.  But- here are my thoughts on the matter.

Flow.  Everyone has had that lightning bolt of inspiration hit them.  It doesn’t even have to involve writing!  There’s a moment, where all of a sudden, things become clear, and you know what you have to do and what you want to do.   So you go and just do it.  That’s what happened to me when I went and saw the movie Hugo.  It inspired this short story.  And I’m pretty happy with the result.   The words just seemed to flow from out of my fingers, and I barely had to think about what I was writing.  I believe it’s this natural, raw inspiration that produces the most fluid and honest writing.

But if you only write when you’ve caught the lightning bug, those spurts can be few and far between.  Even if it produces some of our best work, we can’t completely rely on it.  Sometimes we have to hunker down and treat writing as what it really is: hard work.

Forced.  This is where we struggle, as writers, to produce our stories.  Every decent writer needs to spend time on their writing.  It’s like clocking in hours at a job.  Even if you don’t want to, or don’t feel like it, you need do it.  Why?

Because you can’t edit and perfect what isn’t on the page. 

This is especially true when you’re in it for the long haul.  Short stories and Flash Fiction are wonderful for the strikes of inspiration.  But when you enter novella and novel territory, more often than not there will be days when you force yourself to write the story, even if it isn’t flowing out of your fingertips.  It might not come out exactly as you want, unlike some of the spur of the moment stories, but you can always go back and edit.

So, if you’re like me, and just starting to realize you want to be serious about writing, then find that balance.  Be ready to find inspiration in unlikely places.  And if that fails, don’t be afraid to sit down and write against the current.  Take your own writing seriously.  Don’t let if fall by the wayside just because the words are struggling with you.

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