Welcome to our July issue!
In this issue, we talk about stories.
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The Amuse Bouche Review Team
Feature: Oral Traditions: The Great Equalizer (A.P. Miller) Essay
What Makes a Great Story? (Aedyn Brooks) Writing advice
Immersing your reader in your story (Renée Gendron) Writing Advice
Story Atoms (Melissa Yuan-Innes) Fiction
Value of Stories (Louise Sorensen) Essay
Lost (D.W. Hitz) Fiction
July Team Showcase
by A.P. Miller (@Millerverse)
Here’s an uncomfortable truth: some people are excellent technical writers, masters of form and usage, and they are god-awful storytellers. The reverse is also true — I read a story online about a man’s father who was an incredibly captivating storyteller and he was illiterate. One does not necessarily equate to the other. Ask yourself, which do you hear more of in a positive light? The person who knew the proper usage of a semicolon, or the person who could spin a yarn around a campfire?
Most of us will say the orator, right? People come to the table for stories. We want to hang on the edge of our seats, biting our nails, certain we will lose our sense of purpose if we don’t find out what happens next. I understand this and I sharpen my skills because I want people to keep consuming my work. If you take nothing else away from this piece, let it be this: people come to the table for stories!
Oral traditions were the foundations of civilizations and they are still studied today. Greek, Norse, and Roman mythologies are some of the best selling collections of all time. Musicians like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen’s most popular songs are ballads. American children are brought up on folk stories like Paul Bunyan and John Henry. Those figures are so ingrained in our consciousness because of how captivating the stories are. Chances are, you may have read those tales, but you most likely heard them being told.
I had a shower thought: great mythologies were started because someone dared to ponder what it would be like if someone could do the impossible. What if the legend of Hercules was thought of because someone was laboring in the fields and daydreamt about a man who had impossible strength? What if someone was watching a thunderstorm and wondered what a man who could wield lightning and thunder would look like, then named him Thor? I’m sure the actual history behind those deities is far more complex than that, but you see what I’m saying.
Oral traditions can be even more intimate than that. The trophy case at your high school, perhaps. Surely, there was that one athlete who ran a kick-off for the game winning touchdown, and your parents may have even known that athlete. Some towns have the legend of the kid who climbed the water tower and painted their girlfriend/boyfriend/non-binary partner’s name on it. Other towns have the stories about a teacher who fist-fought the criminal in their classroom. Those stories are so lasting because of how good of stories they are.
Listen to children at play sometime. Ever really listen to a kid explaining what they are playing? Sometimes it is absolutely fascinating! Those kids should be the example we all strive for. Their imaginations are running wild because they aren’t concerned about marketability or who will enjoy their world — they are doing it for them and everyone else can get bent. When I’m writing, I will try to capture that kind of magic, and I’m often unsuccessful because being an adult will beat that out of you.
If you’re a writer, I want you to think of this like an exercise. Take a plot you are considering and tell it out loud like an oral tradition. Take it as far as you’d like it, get people around a campfire and regale them with a plot you’re working on. Their reactions will tell you a lot — where your plot may be weak, which parts are strongest, etc.
If you’re someone who just enjoys stories, I want you to pay attention to where you find stories. Are there people gossiping in the grocery store, spinning a yarn that keeps your attention? Is a song keeping your attention? What about a podcast covering true crime?
I took the long way around Albuquerque to demonstrate my point, but the sentiment remains the same: people come to the table for stories!
by Aedyn Brooks (@AedynBrooks)
I may have very well lost my best friend this week. Sometimes, we out grow our friends—even as adults. You see, my best friend is a gifted storyteller. Her greatest strength is verbalizing great stories. Recently, she published her first solo novel through a smaller press. I’d only read about three chapters of the actual story because we vastly disagreed on what makes a great story. To me, there were scenes that didn’t have a goal, no decision, no new information, etc. If it were my book, I’d cut those scenes. Sure, I might write it for the rough draft, but it wouldn’t get a permanent place in the novel. If a scene doesn’t meet that essential trifecta, I remove it in the end. It wasn’t my book, nor my story to tell, but if you ask for my critique, I’m going to give it. And yes, I’m going to be honest. I’d much rather she heard the negative feedback from me, than someone else. Unfortunately, my friend is receiving one and two star reviews, amidst some five-star ones (one she wrote herself—don’t ever do that). Naturally, my friend is upset at the negative reviews. She’s angry at me because I agree with them. It isn’t like I didn’t try to warn her…and that my friends, is the hardest part of the writing business.
We’re all going to get one and two star reviews because the world holds billions of different opinions. Some will love your story and others will hate it. There doesn’t have to be logic to their assessment. It is what it is. Don’t let it derail your writing. However, when there are reviewers who provide lengthy descriptions on why this story sucked, you need to take some time and reflect on their comments. Ignoring them will only have you writing books that will harvest the same type of reviews. The best thing you can do for yourself is to write a better book next time. That may mean learning how to write characters anyone can root for and storylines that keep readers turning the page.
A common storytelling technique of new writers is clue, clue, clue, and red herrings galore. Action for action’s sake. Unfortunately, these stories often have sagging middles and little to no stakes. Great stories have choices and consequences. They have failures and flawed characters. There are underdogs, super heroes, and everything in between.
So…you want to write a story. A great story that others can’t put down. A story so fantastic movie producers are knocking on your door to make your creation into the next big blockbuster. Where to start? What if I told you everything you need to know about writing a great story can be learned from three books? No matter what kind of writer you are pantster, plotter, or a hybrid therein, if you read these three craft books, you’ll understand key elements of what makes a great story. Of course, there are a million others, but let’s cut to the chase. Let’s set aside formatting, engaging prose, or even proper punctuation. All of those things improve with writing and editing. (Hire a great editor if you’re self-publishing.)
Structuring Your Novel Workbook by @KMWeiland is my number one must own book. K.M. does a fantastic job of walking you through why scene and sequel are required for great story telling. I’d read Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, and Conflict (GMC), but it was K.M.’s workbook that helped me finally get it drilled through my head. Conflict is the foundation for a great story. It’s what can shape and change your character’s goals, aka motivation. Without motivation, your story will lose forward momentum [insert sagging middle here].
Break Into Fiction, 11 Steps to Building a Powerful Story, by @MaryBuckham and @DiannaLove. Mary also teaches a class once a year that accompanies this book. If you want to be able to tell a fantastic story every time…take this class. The information is in the book, but the class gives you opportunity to ask questions and hone each step. Mary helps you understand the value of stakes and why every book needs them and hooks that keep those pages turning.
Build-A-Book by @Erika Kelly is the shortest most powerful book on building dynamic characters I’ve ever read. Building the right backstory is critical in helping readers understand why the character reacts the way they do (good, bad, or indifferent). She explains how intertwining the story that keeps readers engaged is what helps build a readership who reads everything you publish.
There are several other books on my library bookshelves that I reference often, but these three books helped me understand story and scene structure. Every story needs strong bones. Every character needs to touch the reader enough that they care about them and want to know how their story ends. If not, they won’t finish and quite possibly leave a nasty review.
If you craft a great story, lead and end with hooks, raise the stakes, let your characters fail, and in the end be triumphant then you’ll have a strong bones to building a story that readers will love.
Renée Gendron (@reneegendron)
A great story is memorable. It captures our attention, leaves an imprint on both our minds and hearts. A mystery or a thriller, or a horror story can touch our hearts because we root from the main character to get out of the mess. A sci-fi action adventure inspires, and a romance ends with the reader having a sense of fulfilment the couple will have their happily ever after.
A well-told story resonates with people. Every culture has a practice of storytelling. It’s a way of transmitting information (lessons, survival techniques, morals, ideas of what constitutes a life well-lived) that keeps people’s attention. Great salespeople, marketers, and leaders all harness the power of story to motivate, encourage and create a sense of team or community.
Here’s a random aside: If you have to make a presentation for work, keep the statistics and raw data light and focus on the story, what the data is telling you. Audience members who want the raw data can be provided with the information in an annexe. Focus on the story to capture people’s attention. Don’t be like Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off trying to keep the class’ attention: Anyone? Anyone?
Great stories capture people’s attention and create an emotional and psychological relationship between the teller and listener. Vivid imagery, compelling goals, a noble cause, tragedy, heartache, mistakes, regret, crushing defeat, and humour combine to create an emotional ride. More importantly, they generate opportunities for the audience to relate to the characters, the story’s circumstances, and the arcs of the story. The arcs can be a character’s personal development and/or the steps a character took to address the book’s main plot.
Stories can be oral or written. An oral story relies heavily on the storyteller’s ability to use an engaging voice and have a strong presence in front of a crowd. I’ve been to many meetings where the storyteller had important information to convey. Unfortunately, their body language wasn’t confident, they didn’t make eye contact with those in the room (please don’t stare at your feet or just one person while giving a presentation), and they lost the audience. Again, for the few who could concentrate on the speaker’s content, the content was excellent, but the delivery was poor.
Storytellers whose preference is the written word also need to deliver high-quality content. The words need to suck the reader into a rich world that engages all the senses. Too many authors rely on describing what the character sees instead of immersing the reader in the story by engaging all senses. Consider the two examples:
Example #1: One ankle hooked over the other, John stretched out on the sofa. A gameshow flashed on the television with bobbleheads in wide ties and plaid jackets. He scrambled off the couch and walked to the kitchen, where a cherry pie cooled on the windowsill.
Example #2: A tart scent laced with sugar and rhubarb and a hint of honey wafted from the kitchen. An empty Twinkie wrapper lay strewn on the coffee table. Its sweet taste had nothing on mom’s pies. The fake smiles and surprised gasps from the bobbleheads in wide ties and plaid jackets on the gameshow faded.
John patted his stomach for the remote but spotted it on the top of the tv set, resting above the dials for volume and channel changer. He rolled off the couch, his bare feet caressed by ultra-long shag carpeting.
I’m certain there are better ways of wording example 2. I hope there are. Example #2 uses multiple senses and paints a more vivid image of where and when the character is. Which clues do I leave to give you a sense of time?
I recommend the following books to improve your writing:
-Write your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell
-The Last Fifty Pages by James Scott Bell
-How to Write Funny by Scott Dikkers
-Deep Point of View by Marcy Kennedy
-There are some great courses https://www.margielawson.com/ There are new courses each month. The site is geared towards romance writers. However, craft is craft. Show not tell is applicable across all genres. Every book needs a strong plot and conflict.
by Melissa Yuan-Innes (dr_sassy)
The universe is made of stories,
not of atoms.
This quote confused me. The universe is made of atoms. Why would you argue the opposite?
Then I began to notice how my imagination flared to life as I cheerfully read book after book, carefully turning the pages.
Other children made fun of me, and I soothed myself by reading stories and knitting my own.
Recently, a friend asked why we wrote, besides earning money. I replied
“Writing pleases the control freak part of me as I forge crises and happy endings.
It lets me deliver a middle finger to injustice.
Money is good, but this brutal joy is better.”
Now I believe that the literal world is made of atoms, but my internal world is created by stories.
By Louise Sorensen (@louise3anne)
Humans are obsessed with stories. In books, movies, songs, or paintings, the human race is constantly telling stories. Why? Is there a good reason, other than we like the sound of our own voices, or to see our name in print or on a theatre marquee or album cover?
I believe stories started as soon as our ancestors developed language. Maybe even before. The hoots and howls of pre-humans told the story of approaching lions and other predators, or the pain of the passing into death of a family member.
The first purpose of a story is to communicate. In early tribes, the stories would have been a retelling of their day. To brag of their prowess perhaps, in the case of the hunters, to tell where the most succulent leaves and fruit could be found, in the case of the gatherers, to let go of the stress of the day and to pass on knowledge to those too young to go out. The elders would have had a wealth of knowledge to impart to help the tribe survive.
Stories also explained the natural world. Animals became gods in early animistic religions. Gods of lightning, Zeus, and thunder, Thor, helped explain why people got zapped and fried during storms. These were vengeful, all powerful gods, the forerunners of many religions today.
Religion helped solidify concepts of good and evil and the right thing to do. From the hunters of ages past, who cooperated with their brothers to kill wooly mammoths with spears, to feed the tribe, to the superheroes of today who save Earth on a daily basis, heroes did the right thing. Fought, and bled, and sacrificed themselves to save others. To me, the energy and passion of the games of football, in North America, soccer in the rest of the world, harken back to the days of a co-operative hunt for big beasts.
Today, stories entertain, relieve stress, educate, manipulate, and provide jobs for creatives and audiences alike.
The News tells us what’s happening in the rest of the world. Global Warming and Covid are big today, and they concern survival. It’s not as simple as a story around the campfire telling you to avoid the grumpy wooly rhinoceros at the grassland near the bend in the river, because News these days is politicized. You’re going to hear equal and opposite stories about the same thing, depending on who you listen to. Stories, and survival of the human race, have become a veritable minefield.
When the stress of the News becomes too much, people can binge on superhero, feel good, and happily ever after movies so they don’t have to dwell on the woes of the world. To further relieve stress, there are books and music to hide away in, as opposed to figuring out a problem and doing something about it. Sort of like the band playing on while the Titanic sank. But perhaps with the dearth of lifeboats, they figured they were doing the best they could. The engineers manned the generators of the Titanic to keep the lights on, and as a result, drowned even before the first lifeboat was launched, but possibly saved many lives. It boiled down to the right thing to do, as drummed into them by eons of storytelling that promoted survival.
If happily ever after is not to your taste, there’s plenty of Dystopian SciFi and Horror to prepare you for the future.
How do stories shape culture, you might ask. For one thing, when everyone tells their story on social media, you find out just who believes what. We’re divided into Liberals and Conservatives, religious and non-religious, Vaxxers and Maskers, and Anti-vaxxers and Anti-maskers. All these factions determine survival, and people are manipulated by influencers, celebrities, leaders, and politicians, to think a certain way, or accept a certain belief, in support of someone’s agenda.
Stories have helped shape the human race, and stories can either help us survive, or destroy us.
The human race is clever, with many individuals who have figured out how to do the right thing: reduce our carbon footprint, recycle everything, stop producing stuff that ends up in landfills or strangling sea animals. The elephant in the room is controlling or reducing the human population. It’s such a big invisible elephant, I almost forgot about it. It involves living within our means. The Earth has a finite amount of Carrying Capacity. That’s like the number of cows that can graze on a field forever, without degrading or destroying the field. Humans have gone way past Carrying Capacity. But as one big rowdy, argumentative, manipulative tribe, are we smart enough collectively to co-operate and fix all these problems?
That is a story for the future. And as hope dies last, I hope there will be a future.
If you think I’ve given it to you with both barrels here, you’re right. As the great Canadian Journalist Peter Truman used to say as he signed off from stories of the day:
“That’s not news, but that is reality.”
by DW Hitz (@dustinhitz)
Why was he even here? Why did he want to go in?
Joel examined the front of the dingy yellow house. It was strange, unearthly. The yellow could have hidden a few layers of dirt, or all of the yellow could be dirt. The image was confusing, fuzzy. Crooked brown shutters sealed five of the six windows, and the last seemed to only be open to stare at him through a cock-eyed gaze from the second floor.
It really was staring.
He couldn’t remember how he got to this street. He didn’t drive there; his car wasn’t with him. He didn’t walk there; he wasn’t tired.
He wanted to go in.
Gazing around, the rest of the neighborhood was clean and well manicured. Though no one was home. The streets were empty. Driveways empty. Utter quiet permeated the air except for a single squeak from the house in front of him. A loose shutter?
Why did he want to go in?
He’d never seen this place, never seen this street. It was familiar in no way other than a feeling that tightened in his gut the way guilt did when he forgot to do a project at work and the boss came looking.
But why should he feel guilty?
Had he wronged this place? Wronged someone who lived there? He laughed at the absurdity. How could one wrong a house?
Joel took a step toward the home. A cold breeze crossed him and he shivered. He took another step, this one onto the path that led to the front door. He stopped.
He looked around again.
Why was the street so empty? How could any street be as empty as this? It wasn’t right. The houses, with their manicured lawns and spotless windows and perfect hedges–they were strange, stranger than the home that had brought him here. He didn’t know why, but they were. The home in front of him may have filled him with guilt, even shame. But those houses–those were terrifying.
He took a step down the path. His fingers trembled.
A long creak came from the home. Its front door matched its shutters: brown, crooked, cracks streaking its paint. The slab of wood was opening. Slowly. Thoughtfully. Allowing him a glimpse inside as he moved toward it.
Joel stopped. His mouth lowered. His eyes widened.
The entry floor was oak. Thin strips ran from the front inward. A table stood to the right. A small lamp was on top of it. It was on, casting amber rays over a bowl for keys and a small box for the mail. Through the cracked door came a whisper, “Come back.”
Cold. Joel’s skin was cold. His feet were cold. His guts were cold.
He walked forward. The inside looked warm. The light from the lamp looked warm. The cobwebs that hung from the ceiling inside looked warm.
Joel reached the porch. Blood ran along his brow and down his cheek. It was warm. His face warmed. He touched his forehead. His finger passed where his skin should be, past where his bone should be, and felt the ridges of his own brain. It was warm.
He stepped through the doorway and heard the shot. His ears rang, but only for a moment. He smiled. The door slammed. He was home.
AMBR Team Showcase: July 2021
Book 1 of the Outdoorsman Series, by Renée Gendron to be released fall 2021
Seven Points of Contact, by Renée Gendron to be released fall/winter 2021-202 >
Heads and Tales A supernatural / mythological anthology. Renée Gendron contributed a historical, supernatural, romance. Amazon.