I’ve been teaching some classes in creative writing lately, and I wanted to share some of the most important details in storytelling.
Every successful story has 5 parts. They may not always be in the same order, but they are always present.
1 – Where does it happen?
2- Who is there?
3 – What is the problem?
4- Why is the problem important now?
5- How does the problem get solved?
By explaining these to your reader, they will be able to follow your story clearly. You can use them in other areas too – I learned them at the Vancouver Theater Sports League as hints for improvising actors, but they also make sense in presentations, job interviews, and other formal situations.
By moving our sentence stress, we can change the emphasis of a sentence. I heard this great example from a friend:
“I never said she stole my money” can have seven different meanings according to the stressed word.
1. I never said she stole my money – I didn’t say it; someone else did.
2. I never said she stole my money – I didn’t say it, not even once.
3. I never said she stole my money – I never said it, but perhaps I wrote it or thought it.
4. I never said she stole my money – She didn’t steal it; somebody else did.
5. I never said she stole my money – She didn’t steal it; it was a gift.
6. I never said she stole my money – She stole someone else’s money.
7. I never said she stole my money – She stole something else.
When we learn a new word, we learn its meaning – the denotation. We also learn spelling and pronunciation, but we should also look at the context where we use the word. You see, there are words with the same denotation, like “examination” and “quiz,” but we would never say “I’m going to the doctor’s office for a quiz!” That’s because “quiz” has connotations of school and short duration, but “examination” has connotations of science, medicine, and detail.
The difference between a good user of English and a great user of English is often their mastery of connotations, which they use to help select the best word for each context.
How to choose? Good question.
- The first item is our emotion. What is our attitude towards our topic? Angry, respectful, happy, sad, or something else?
- The second is the formality. Are we speaking formally? Are we writing casually?
- The last is the topic. Is there a clear context, like business, university, romance, or creativity?
If you’re choosing connotations for a school assignment, like a test, also be sure to check the grammar – singular/plural, word forms, and count/noncount may all be reasons to eliminate multiple choices that your teacher has given you!
In teaching writing, I often am asked about the typical lengths of written pieces. “How long should my sentences be?” “How many words can I put in a presentation?” Here are a few of the most common details for easy reference.
Generally, people speak at a speed of about 200 words per minute. Most native speakers will read at a speed of about 500 words per minute. Most ESL students will read at the same speed they speak.
One page of text, single-spaced, in a 12-point font, is about 500 words. One page, written by hand, will be between 200 or 300 words.
Most paragraphs have between 50 and 200 words in them. Most paragraphs have less than nine lines.
A paragraph contains only one idea, but several pieces of supporting detail.
Most sentences will be short or medium-length. Long sentences are less common.
I used to be shy. Speaking in public was a bit scary, too, so I took a course in acting when I started teaching. My confidence improved, as well as my listening and speaking skills. In my class of 12 people, there were three ESL students!
The instructors are all professional actors, and the class was a lot of fun. If you are ready to upgrade your public speaking, conversation, and listening, check out the Vancouver Theatersports League on Granville Island. The course is called Level 100, and takes two weekends to complete.