Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Second Lecture en Route to Fiji: A Great Story to Tell

We're delighted to again welcome Karen Albright Lin to Chiseled in Rock!

Karen consults and edits for published and yet-to-be published writers of fiction, nonfiction, and book proposals. She writes in a number of genres and conducts writing workshops in various venues, including on cruise ships.

If you missed her five previous blogs regarding Teaching through the Islands, you might enjoy reading them before this installment, as she first shared her preparations in anticipation of teaching classes while on board her latest cruise, discussed some of the downsides to teaching on a cruise, introduced us to new tablemates and the private beach on Moorea, how she was bit in Bora Bora, and then she described her first class while teaching en route to Fiji.


Each time I return from teaching at sea I have new stories to tell.  My cruise through the islands was no exception.  From Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora and on toward Fiji I collected dubious rumors, true tales and character sketches.  These on-board experiences mirrored my second lecture, Have a Great Story to Tell?

In most genres, readers seek, above all, to follow characters.  

And we populate our books with complicated people like those we meet in real life.  While waiting for my husband to finish up with the mahjong group, I learned one new friend was painfully OCD.  She admitted her fitted sheets don’t look fitted after folding and that her morning ritual takes hours--most of it unpacking and packing her makeup bag just so.  To further complicate her world, she had to cope with the aftermath of being a jury member in a case that included over one hundred counts of child molestation.  She held back the tears at our lunch as she felt driven to wash her hands.

She would make a great protagonist.  I empathized with her.  She was noble, flawed, and had goals.  It would be painful yet enlightening to be in her skin for the length of a book.   

There were many faceless antagonists on board.  A cough was going around.  We met several people battling the pain of cancer and the burden of pulling along oxygen tanks.  The weather wasn’t cooperating.  Yet it was the human antagonists who made stories relatable: the woman who stole and wore another woman’s dress, the DJ who refused to play anything newer than 1970s because he wanted to clear the place of people who might stay past 11:00 pm so he could call it a night, and the man who made fun of an entertainer who wore an outfit that was super-snug over her large body rather than commenting about her lovely voice. 

Great storytelling creates danger, tension, reversals, and key plot points.   

Because the ship was rockin’and rollin’ in a big way, nauseating some, entertaining others, a rumor went around that one of the stabilizers had gone out.  One of our entertainers fell off her acrobatic prop and onto the hard stage, ending the show early.  Another entertainer’s jokes flopped.  All of it short story material, right?

The wide variety of characters on the ship broke most stereotypes about Aussies.  They weren’t all alligator wrestlers or Nicole Kidman beautiful.  Nor did they survive on Fosters Beer or live on vegemite and barbeque.  They didn’t have to dodge kangaroos in the cities.  They each had a unique voice that made me care about his or her adventures.  Singers sold their CDs outside the big theater.  One performer was a shrinking type, seemed pitiful, embarrassed about his career coming down to this, calling himself “washed up.”  Another, head-held-high, promoted himself as a singer, horse whisperer, and ukulele expert.  Hey, why not?

We writers, even as late as AFTER we’ve written our entire stories, discover our theme.  

My theme for this trip could well have been that travel is a nuisance: showering in a cubby hole, frowning over stormy weather, scrambling to find restrooms when ashore, driving on a different side of the street, and learning how many ways people try to part me from my money. 

But I prefer my theme be: travel brings out my passionate side, the part of me that loves to dance in a Jacuzzi, eat blood sausage, schmooze with cruise staff, and meet writers who are in the midst of living and writing stories I’m eager to read or see on the big screen.  


Thank you, Karen, for sharing your travels and for teaching us what it's really like to teach on-board a cruise ship!  Join us on August 13th for the next in the series: Fiji but the Wrong Port! (I won’t mention it, but I will.)


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