I think my weirdest personality trait might be how much I enjoy giving presentations. If I could somehow synthesize the chemicals that flow through me when I’m in front of an audience, I bet I could create a nice addictive drug that would make millions of dollars. (From curing depression and anxiety, not just getting people high, if that matters.)
I spoke to a class at Full Sail today. So much fun. Great audience, too — interested and attentive and willing to be interactive. The presentation was a revised version of the one I gave a couple months ago. It’s getting better, but it’s not entirely right yet. There’s a process in creating a presentation that is about figuring out what you want to say and then figuring out how to say it and then how to show it. I still need to do a little work on the first part in order to smooth out the second and third.
One of the things that I talked about, though, was how good storytelling is basically good lying. Once you’ve learned how to lie well, you’re halfway to knowing how to tell a story well. And what better place to learn how to lie then from the people who try to determine whether you’re lying or not?
The FBI has lots of interesting information about interrogations and signs of truth or falsity. A condensed version (highly condensed) of one technique called Criteria-Based Content Analysis (CBCA) says that true stories (and therefore good lies) contain the following types of details:
Context — details that place the story in a time and setting
Sensory — sight, sound, smell, details that evoke physical sensation
Emotional — people telling the truth about their own experience share how they felt, people reporting on an experience or making it up skip that
Unusual, unexpected, superfluous — real events have details that surprise people and when someone is telling the truth, they share that detail
I tied that concept to Kurt Vonnegut’s line about every sentence in a story needs to move the action forward or reveal character, but I added a bit, making it “move the action forward or reveal character or relationships.” Those two ideas — about details and about sentence-level goals — might just add up to my ideas about how to write. Some people write books about the subject, but I think I might be two-thirds of the way to figuring out my own philosophy: Tell good lies in a way that Kurt Vonnegut would approve of. Funnily enough, I’m not actually a huge Vonnegut fan. He’s a great writer, of course, but I don’t want to live in his worlds. So maybe for me there’s another element about writing a world in which I want to live?
Speaking of which, one of the students asked how I picked the locations I wanted to write about. I don’t think I answered her question very well, because I went into an immediate digression about Florida. I’ve lived in a lot of places. Omitting Florida and in order of time spent: California, New York, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Illinois, London, British Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Washington. I’ve vacationed or visited even more, but I’m not going to bother with a list because it would take too long. There are plenty of countries I’ve never visited (all of Asia and Africa, for example!) but I’ve checked out most of the states one way or another.
That gives me the authority to say that Florida is magical, so what better place to set a magical story? I saw immediate skepticism, so I said, “No, no, really, Florida is magic. You walk outside of your house and there are these giant birds, like huge, and they’re just there, in your front yard.” Tom, the teacher, said, “For me, it was the lizards.” I nodded immediately. Florida is rife with lizards. They’re everywhere. And did you know that geckos chuckle? The noise a gecko makes is exactly like a smug little laugh. But I digress again — there were still dubious smirks on student faces, so I said, “I will prove it. I will prove that Florida is magic. I will find a photograph.”
Technology being what it is, it took me a minute, but I finally managed to pull up the following photo, which I showed each and every student on my phone.
That bug is a scarlet-bodied moth wasp. It was flying around my bedroom the other day and when I finally got it outside, I took a picture.
Apart from being the prettiest bug you will ever see in your life, with its red body and lacy wings, the scarlet-bodied moth wasp has the amazing attribute of being the only bug that shares a chemical defense. “The adult male moth extracts toxins known as “pyrrolizidine alkaloids” from Dogfennel Eupatorium (Eupatorium capillifolium) and showers these toxins over the female prior to mating. This is the only insect known to transfer a chemical defense in this way. “ Is that not cool?
And definite proof, IMO, that Florida is magic. Tassamara is small potatoes compared to scarlet bugs that pretend to be wasps and have heroic males defending their mates via sprinkled pixie dust (um, pollen.)
Way cool moth Sarah, I would think most people and predators would think it was a wasp. I believe New Zealand is magical as well. I moved here from Chicago as a young woman and fell in love with it.
I am fascinated by your paragraphs on lying. It makes me want to practice. I am going to cut and paste that section into my ‘notes’.
I admit, I was a little freaked out by it when it was IN my bedroom! Once it was outside, I was much more able to appreciate how pretty it was. New Zealand looks magical in pictures — someday I want to visit!
Judy, Judy, Judy said:
I have to examine this more thoroughly because something about it makes me feel affirmed in the way I right whereas in the past I have allowed ‘teachers’ to make me feel wrong about it somehow. (That sentence isn’t worded correctly because I lay the blame at my feet not the teachers but I couldn’t get it quite right.)
Judy, Judy, Judy said:
affirmed in the way I WRITE not right – duh
I guessed that. 🙂 (Don’t you hate those typos that you catch immediately?)
The four types of details are a handy writer’s block tool, too — if you’re feeling stuck, considering which of the details you could use more of is a helpful way to make the scene more real in your head.
Judy, Judy, Judy said:
Sarah – this was really helpful. I explored it in a blogpost on my blog – here:
Oh, I’m so glad! I’m still working on that personal philosophy business — I feel as if I’m partway there, but not all the way. One of my slides had a line on it about Research Rules, of which #1 was “Don’t be boring,” but I’ve also been thinking a lot about Nora Roberts. She gets away with everything — omniscient scenery, head-hopping, long descriptions, scenes that go nowhere — and people will say, “oh, that’s because she’s Nora Roberts, she can do that,” but doesn’t it mean that we all could if only we could capture the other things she’s doing that let her get away with it? Probably another blog post to come on this subject! But I’ll come visit your blog, too. It’s in my RSS feed, but I’m pretty far behind these days.