Sharing the secrets of literary storytelling

Canadian author Sigmund Brouwer chats about the difference between writing and storytelling with Chilliwack middle school students.

Canadian author

Canadian author

The writing process is not for the faint of heart.

It’s a long, tiring chore filled with editing, re-writing and proofreading. A never-ending loop of spell checks, grammar checks, and even reality checks. In short, it’s a lot like work.

No, the real fun is in the art of storytelling. Grabbing the reader by the jugular and not letting go. Taking that reader through the highs and lows, the sorrow and the laughter, from page to dog-eared page.

Canadian author Sigmund Brouwer spoke about the difference between writing and storytelling Wednesday morning, as part of his Rock and Roll Literacy presentation at Chilliwack middle school. He has penned countless young adult novels, with close to three million copies of his published works circulating among libraries and book stores across North America.

And even though Brouwer’s been honing his craft for more than 20 years, his editing process remains intensive. After writing a few chapters, he goes back to the start again, revising each page until it’s perfect. Once he’s moved that way through an entire novel, averaging 200 pages, he edits the whole story over again — not once but twice.

But even with all that experience, those credentials, and perspiration, Brouwer still has one more hurdle. He still has to send the manuscript to his editor. And, as he illustrated to the kids at CMS, editors are not so different than teachers.

For example, Brouwer said, he took the red pen to his most recent novel at least seven times. So when he proudly sent it off to his editor, he was absolutely confident it was perfect.

But she has a red pen, too.

Brouwer showed the kids pages of emailed revisions, suggestions, and full out re-write instructions — all marked with red, and some even written in the dreaded all caps.

“But she wasn’t upset with me,” he explained. “It’s just part of the process.”

After all, he said “the story is everything.”

Everyone knows a good story when they hear it. The tricks and tools of writing can be improved upon, but a good story captures the reader or listener, and doesn’t let them go.

Why?

“Because story begins when a problem begins,” he said.     Whether the main character wakes up to find himself strapped to a chair, or a character skates to the centre of a hockey rink only to start ripping off his clothes, the reader is going to be curious enough to continue to the nex page.

While those are examples from Brouwer’s novels, a good story is one that not only hooks the reader, but plays with emotions.

“I love messing with my readers’ emotions,” he said. “I made them cry? Yay!”

And that’s why classics endure, he said, despite the passing of time. Stories like Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery could be deemed “boring” by some readers, he said. But when he sat down to read it, at his wife’s urging, he was hooked.

“It’s a story about a girl who lived with old people,” he said, encouraging the audience to share his contempt. But the storytelling, the pace, and most of all, the feelings the story can create, is what makes it a good story.

“Humans get lost in feelings. Anne of Green Gables was written 110 years ago. And now 3,000 kilometres away and 110 years into the future that story is still there,” he said. “And you are among the 10 per cent of children across the world who can decode those words and enjoy that story. That’s a gift.”

Brouwer balances his time between Red Deer, AB and Nashville, TN, with his family. His wife is a recording artist, and they have two young daughters. He travels throughout North America to schools to encourage literacy.

To download free copies of Brouwer’s work to your handheld device, visit rockandrollbooks.com.

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