I’m a little overwhelmed at how quickly this residency came and went. For those writers who are interested in the low residency format for the MFA in Creative Writing, Lesley packs a lot into each day. The seminars this time were excellent, and I spent a lot of time thinking about the visual connection between writing and illustration, and how that translates into our work, whether we are writing picture books (where we rely on illustrations to tell some of the story) or we are illustrating with our words.
One of the more valuable pieces of information that I came away with this residency is the idea of a story sentence, provided by Jacqueline Davies. It sounds simplistic, but it seems that we, as writers, tend to have a very difficult time boiling down our brilliant tomes into a succinct idea that can be readily communicated to editors and agents. Enter the story sentence, made up of three elements: (1) Main character; (2) motivation; and, (3) problem. Written out, it becomes a formula that you can fill in with the narrative plot of your choice: Protagonist wants (fill in the blank) but (fill in the problem).
The story sentence that starts your novel out doesn’t have to be the main plot of the novel (although that, too, will have a story sentence). For example, in Patricia MacLachlan’s Sarah, Plain and Tall, the story starts off with a story sentence that may be said as “Anna wants to make dinner, but Caleb is being a pest.” This gets the action going, but soon we discover that the true story sentence is “Anna wants Sarah to be her mother figure, but Sarah hasn’t decided whether she will stay.”
The story sentence is a great tool to use if you need to focus in on the main element(s) of your story, are ready to write a synopsis, or need to determine how many subplots you have going on and where they begin and end within your story arc.
This is a really fun way to look at picture books, but it is also widely applicable to any type of fiction, as we hone in on the story thread that will pull the reader through the narrative.
I hope this idea is as useful to you as it has been to me.
Best writing wishes,