Friday, July 5, 2013


By Susan

Summer is in full swing here in Texas-- as the Southeast is drowning in torrential rains and the Southwest is baking in 125+ degree heat, Texas is cruising right along into bright blue summertime.

As children are coming and going from camps, fireworks are exploding above and vacations are beginning, I can't help but think of the summers of my childhood: cool nights with my parents and extended family. Older cousins full of trickery, swimming pools and deep lakes. And because I frame my memories as stories, I can't help but think think of the storytellers of my youth.

My grandmother was a divine storyteller. She read Uncle Remus to my sisters and me with a full cast of voices and actions: rabbits and foxes and tar babies. My mother put us to bed every summer night with a sing-song prayer that included the names of everyone in our family, and sometimes, if we were lucky, a short tale she'd make up herself. My grandfather was known to spin a yarn-- although most times they weren't fit for children's ears.

When my own daughters were younger, I carried on that tradition of stories read aloud, of sing-song prayers, and of the bedtime tale. And in the course of my fiction, I've realized that words like author and writer have never felt overly comfortable to me, as though they fit like clothes sewn for someone else. Yet the word storyteller-- that's something I can relate to. There are great writers who form beautiful sentences, but the talent I most admire in a writer is the ability to tell a story.

What are the greatest elements of storytelling? I like to think of the simple campfire ghost story. What makes it work? Here is my summer list of what makes a great story. How can you incorporate these elements into any story you write?

1. Suspense-- can your story keep your audience's attention?
2. Pacing and Timing-- Can you move the story forward with rising action, building toward a climax?
3. Rhythm-- When you read your story aloud, does it have a cadence? Short sentences framed by longer ones, alliteration, and other literary devices designed to make your story sing?

When your story feels stuck, revisit the old campfire story, and don't worry about going over the top. You can always scale it back if needed. When you find your inner storyteller, let her loose. Spin a yarn, tell a tale.

Happy summer writing!

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