Giving Birth to the Narrative

Diane McKinney-Whetstone

Giving Birth to the Narrative

 

Award-winning Philadelphia-based writer Diane McKinney-Whetstone, author of five page-turning novels, was enlisted to support JustUS Voices guided storytelling. Here she offers insights on creating the narrative.

What elements do you look for in a personal narrative?
I am drawn to both the strange and the familiar in a personal narrative. Novelist Toni Morrison says that the best story tellers have the ability┬áto make what is strange, familiar, and what is familiar, strange. I seek out the mundane aspects of a person’s story and attempt to shape those parts so that they feel unique, different. Similarly, I try to capture what is odd and render it in a way that is relatable.

What makes a story compelling?
The sense of detail makes a story compelling. Details can hold emotional content, and I am always trying to engage the reader at an emotional level. Facts, statistics are sometimes necessary, but they speak to the head, not the heart. I want to describe the smells, the feel of the air, the sound of a quickening breath. The details create immediacy, and can also infuse tension; situate a character there, and you’ve got the elements of a compelling story.

How do you identify a theme?
I hesitate to start writing with a theme in mind because the narrative will often take on an author-imposed feel. I’d much prefer to be in the thicket of the first draft, when suddenly I discover connections I’d not considered, as essential meanings-themes– percolate up through the text. Few things are more satisfying than such epiphanies.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to share their story through guided storytelling?

There’s an adage in fiction writing: no conflict, no story. Think abut the conflicts in your life, what shape do they take? Is there a pattern? How were you changed as a result? What did you learn? Take the time to reflect; allow the details to emerge. Be emotionally honest.

Award-winning Philadelphia-based writer Diane McKinney-Whetstone, author of five page-turning novels, was enlisted to support JustUS Voices guided storytelling. Here she offers insights on creating the narrative.

1 Comment
  • LIsa Cain
    Posted at 03:37h, 06 August

    I too am at awe with what Sue Burton has produced from her soul, her life’s journey that meets with the needs of so many. I am writing to find out if I could be of help. #whyiamawoman.com