Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Got Stories? Consider Creating a Collection

Whether you write fact-based stories or whole-cloth fiction, crafting a collection gives you freedom to combine elements of your favorite writing forms to transport you and your readers to places both familiar and faraway.

What’s your favorite writing form — memoir, poetry, short stories, experimental? Maybe you like mysteries or family sagas. Or maybe for you, it’s less about genre or form and more about the individual story. If any of these is true, then compiling a collection might be just the ticket.

One great way to determine whether you have the makings for a compilation is to inventory your work. If you tend toward writing fiction, you may have a file of short stories that, with a bit of weaving, could work as a collection. Or maybe you started what you thought was a novel but now feels more like a series of different but interconnected stories than a continuous saga.

Taking inventory works for nonfiction, too. Start by perusing blog posts and postcards, journal entries, letters, a book you may have started writing —any written communication — for a common thread. Maybe you’ve traveled to distant lands, raised exotic pets, perfected a particular hobby or started a memoir about a turning point in your life. Any of these topics can serve as a framework for a montage of pieces with a larger point, such as people you discovered in your travels or lessons you learned along the way.

So how do you develop a story collection?

Think of it as creating a scrapbook, album or webpage. You can start by selecting pieces on similar or compatible subjects or themes. After that, you can arrange them in a particular order, for example, by most recent or farthest back, or by ascending or descending degree of importance. You might even try a patchwork approach, where the pieces are less about order and more about proximity: which pieces work best next to each other.

While these are good ways to begin a collection, you’ll need to strengthen the sense of connection among the pieces for them to truly work both as standalones and as integral parts of a whole. For this, two things are required. First, develop each piece to its greatest degree. Second, meld the pieces together for a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Sounds good, right? So how do we create links, and where do the various styles of writing come in?

One way to create links is by repetition, for example, through characters, people, or settings that show up in more than one story. You might even have recurring motifs and interconnecting storylines or plotlines. Once you discover where the connections naturally occur, you can further develop them by using elements of your favorite writing forms. For example, if you’re writing a series of family stories, perhaps based on the holidays, you might include short recollections and images of what people wore, served for meals, or talked about in the kitchen.

Don’t feel compelled to create a clear connection between the events and the images they may evoke. Instead, you might focus on theme, for example, that one particular family member or constant guest who somehow always managed to be the centerpiece of every gathering.

To further connect your stories, consider how stories are told in the oral tradition. Such tales aren’t always told linearly or chronological order. Instead, one memory sparks another and another. Don’t worry if there’s a bit of mystery in how the stories unfold. The understanding of linked stories often comes through sensory details and the emotions they stir up.

To decide which writing form — poetry, flash fiction, new article or other — would best enhance a piece, consider what would best showcase the scenes in the piece without overshadowing them.

Last, most collections usually feature a signature story that acts as a polestar for the compilation and is often the one that sparked the rest. It rarely appears at the beginning of the collection, though it might appear at the end, as a form of tie-in for all that has come before. More often, however, the pivotal piece occurs somewhere in the second third of the compilation, where it functions as the beating heart of the work as a whole.

Whether you enjoy creating fictional pieces or stories based on fact, crafting a story collection offers an opportunity to use your favorite writing styles and experiment with those you’d like to learn better.

Happy writing!

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