Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing tips

Writing the Story, Part 7

Happy Norwegian Independence Day! I grew up in a little town west of Seattle called Poulsbo, a once tiny Norwegian fishing village on Puget Sound full of Scandinavian immigrants who made their living on the water, where, when I was a kid, May 17 and Viking Fest were bigger than the 4th of July!

And on a more somber note, tomorrow,  May 18, is the 39th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State’s Cascade Range. Though my immediate family and I were not directly affected by the eruption—my uncle 3,000 miles away in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, actually had more ash fall on his car than we did living only 250 miles north and west of the mountain—it is, nevertheless, one of those events I will never forget, the memory of which acts as a continual reminder of how little control we human beings really have over this tiny planet we call home.

And now, on to more storytelling . . .

Strategic Thinking: How Thorough Topic Analysis Can Build a Strong Foundation forstrategic-thinking-1-638 Effective Writing

Have you ever picked up a book or a magazine article that looked interesting, then started to read it only to find the author was more interested in preaching than storytelling? This can happen all too easily if we’re not careful. Most writers have something important to say, whether writing fiction or nonfiction, but it is just as important to think strategically about our subject matter lest we become so immersed in whatever issue we’re tackling that our story gets lost in the argument. Writing can change minds and hearts, just as performance drama can, but beware of biting off more than you can comfortably chew and letting the topic eclipse the story rather than letting the story illuminate the topic.

What Is Strategic Thinking?

Let me give you an example that goes back to my librarian days, when one of my biggest tasks was to help undergraduates create research strategies that would allow them to successfully write a paper or complete another project that would fulfill an assignment on their syllabus.

Librarian: What can I help you with today?

Student: I need to write a five-page paper, and my professor wants us to use four scholarly sources.

Librarian: Okay. I can help you with that. What is your topic?

Student: Pollution.

Librarian: That’s a pretty big topic for only a five-page paper, so let’s try to narrow that down a bit. What is it about pollution that interests you?

Student: Nothing. I just need to write about pollution.

Librarian (trying again): The thing is, entire encyclopedia have been written on this huge, umbrella topic, so you will need to identify some part of the topic that you can address in only five pages. For example . . .

This is where the librarian goes on to help the student think strategically about the topic of pollution, which leads to a subtopic narrow enough for a 5-page research paper:

Laura_Narrowing Topics

Such topic analysis can build a strong foundation for effective writing, and without it, writers can flounder in a mass of too much information. Smaller and narrower can prove more effective and manageable than bigger and broader, allowing the writer to write really well on a very specific topic—or on only one aspect of a much larger topic.

If you ever wonder just how narrow you can go, click into an online university library catalog and look up PhD dissertations. For all that they can provide massive studies, at the core you will find a seemingly insignificant subtopic under one of their discipline’s massive umbrella topics. You will find PhDs are rarely generalists, even within their own discipline. Likewise, those who write popular nonfiction of any length can make their work much more effective using the same strategy. 

Strategic Thinking in Fiction

This same kind of strategic thinking can also help when writing fiction. For example, let’s look at the topic of pollution. Perhaps, like me, you’ve seen the commercial on T.V. in which two young men are pitching their plastic bracelets made from recycled plastics and glass recovered from the Pacific Ocean. These two surfers tell a brief story of how they were on a surfing vacation and discovered just how big plastic pollution is in the ocean and what they are trying to do about it. They are telling their personal story—and it is a compelling one. What other personal story might you write about the same topic?

Of course, fictional and factual writing are not the same thing, but you could still deal with pollution in a fictional story. If I were to write one, it might be about what my city’s efforts to eradicate mosquitoes is doing to our local honey bee and firefly populations. It’s sad, but true, that controlling mosquitoes for the sake of combating the West Nile virus has an adverse effect on other insects. Just as DDT all but ended malaria in certain parts of the world but caused such devastation to the bird populations they stopped spraying it, which only led to an increase in malaria, causing more human deaths. This topic has been tackled widely in both the scientific and popular news literature, but it would also make for good fiction.
For these kinds of topics to work in a story, however, a writer needs to strategically analyze the topic and find the human-interest among the facts. For example, you could write about a farming family’s plight,when their fruit crops decline as the result of the death of their honey bee population. Do your research and get the facts right—that’s first—but then find that human-interest nugget that can bring the huge umbrella topic down not only to a digestible bite but to a story that will catch your readers’ interest. Yes, fiction writers can write about pollution—and any other topic under the sun—if they feel called to do so, but how much more effective a short story, a poem, a song, or even a novel would be if it were about a little girl or boy who asks, Where Have All the Fireflies Gone? 

Next time, we’ll look at Aristotle’s Three Unities: Action, Time, and Place.


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by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links 

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