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Marissa Lingen

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your own questions [Feb. 26th, 2017|10:56 am]
Marissa Lingen
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Earlier this month I was the author guest for Literacy Night at a local grade school. My presentation (repeated three times–though never the same) was half an hour to kindergarteners through fourth graders and the adults they had in tow, about how to take an idea to the point of being an actual story.

It was great. The kids were great. At one point we ended up with a dragon riding a roller coaster with a robot yeti and fleeing a wendigo–and that was all one kid. The parents were also great, with one dad postulating a unipotamus (a hippopotamus with a unicorn head), both envying and envied by a dragon, each learning to be themselves.

The thing I focused on was learning to ask questions, learning to ask the right questions, which is to say, the kind of questions that result in a story. “Where do you get your ideas?” is the cliched question, the question that interviewers seem to simultaneously want to ask and want to avoid asking. But I think that behind the cliche there can be a genuine desire to know about a skillset the interviewer does not have, and that’s even more the case the younger the person asking the question. Sometimes what they’re really asking is: how do you do this thing, in specific, concrete terms so that I can do this thing too. Or at least so that I can see whether I can.

I think that one of the major aspects of keeping childhood creativity–or even a fraction of it–into adulthood is learning to direct your questions rather than stifling them. Learning which questions are the ones that suit you, that take you where you want to go. Learning when to break out of that pattern and try some new questions. So I tried to give these kids a sense of what kind of questions you can ask yourself about a story you want to tell.

If they keep up with questions, if they practice asking questions, most of them will discover that the questions that interest them most are not a fiction writer’s questions. They will look at the same birds on a half-frozen pond as a storyteller, and they will find that they have questions about how to make water look wet and ice look slick on paper, how those particular birds behave in summertime, what things we don’t already know about helping someone see at a distance. That’s okay. It’s actually great. But I think it’s fair to start giving kids some ideas of what kind of questions you can ask, how this actually works, where those questions lead you.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux


[User Picture]From: teadog1425
2017-02-27 10:10 am (UTC)
I too would warmly welcome your thoughts on the types of questions help lead you from an idea to a story if you were able to share them with us too? <3
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2017-02-27 01:40 pm (UTC)
A large part of this process has been automated by my subconscious by now, I should be clear, so I skip tons of steps on the conscious level because I have made my brain into a story making machine. I think this is why people get frustrated with, "Where do you get your ideas?" "From having spent most of my life training my brain to do this; next!"

However, you can start with, "how is this different?" You can keep asking that at any stage of the process. "How is my dragon different from other dragons or the expectations people have of dragons? How is this family different, how is this confrontation different, how is this fall down a well different?"

"What does this character want/need? are the two the same? where do those align imperfectly with other characters'?" is another one.
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[User Picture]From: zelda888
2017-02-28 07:53 pm (UTC)
One of my favorite lines that I get to deliver to my tutoring students, after half an hour of walking them through problem-solving:

"You notice that I actually haven't told you anything. All I've done is ask you questions. When you learn to ask yourself those questions, you won't need me anymore."
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