Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Writing your own lines

I teach the high school Sunday School class at my church. Our class' assignment for May was to read the entire book of Esther, and in about one hour of class time, prepare a 10 minute drama to tell the story of Esther to the whole congregation. Just a little overwhelming.
In the interest of time, I assigned each student a character from the story. I asked them to develop their own lines without seeing the other characters' lines. The result was quirky and imperfect, but each character's individual voice came through clearly. They used words and actions in ways that revealed personality. They stuck to the basic ideas of the Old Testament story, but infused it with their contemporary references and perspectives.
I don't think any of the students consider themselves writers, but they proved otherwise. The drama they wrote was filled with original voices which revealed character, advanced the plot, and managed the conflict. We should all do so well with our stories.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Musings on sitting and thinking

I came across a poem called The Secret written by Robert Frost in 1941.
"We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the secret sits in the middle, and knows."
I am awed by the brevity he used to describe a universal truth about human behavior. Then I found a quote by a 17th century French mathematician and philosopher (now there's a combination) named Blaise Pascal. "All man's miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone."
The quote and the poem are saying the same thing to me. I need to spend time sitting quietly, thinking and being. That peaceful state of mind, the secret so to speak, will keep me from dancing round in a ring and from my own miseries.
I can easily apply this idea to my writing. I find my most productive, creative times are when I am relaxed and thinking about my story without pressure. I need to quietly remove myself from it in order to really see it for what it is, and help it become what it is trying to become. 140 pages done, and counting.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Film Festival, part 2

I went to see Defiance at the Dietrich's Film Festival last weekend. The story was based on true events that happened in Belorussia during WWII, where occupying Nazi forces stormed into towns and villages and killed Jewish residents by the hundreds. Many people fled into the surrounding forest, where they met others who were also fleeing.
Eventually, two brothers acted as leaders of this company of Jewish refugees. These men were not perfect leaders, not by a long shot, and they had their share of internal and external trials. They were constantly being hunted by Nazis, local Nazi sympathizers, and wild animals. They were cold, sick, short on food, and often out of hope. But, they kept the people in the forest until the end of the war, over two years, two years! building shelters, schools, and even a hospital of sorts. In all, 1200 people survived in this amazing group thanks to the efforts of these brothers.
The film's epilogue says that the brothers did not want their story told while they were alive and did not want credit for what they had done. Their wishes were respected, and now their children and grandchildren are telling the story.
It makes me wonder how many more stories like that are out there, stories of ordinary people behaving with honor in extraordinarily awful times. The story I'm writing is fiction. More amazing by far are true stories are about real people.