Tuesday Tutorial : Jen Lee : Tell The Whole Story


This week Tuesday Tutorials welcomes Jen Lee.

I met Jen just about a year ago on a weekend adventure of creative people. She is a collector of stories and she has the ability to weave them together in such amazing ways. I love how she reminds us to really connect our senses to our words with strong descriptions - it makes our writing so much richer. I thought a lot about that as I went about my day yesterday. I want to write stories in a way that the reader can really get to the heart of what our lives are all about.

Here's Jen:

I know that, according to the old saying, a picture is worth a thousand words.  While I think that images are very powerful, alone they are not always sufficient to capture all that we want to remember. With a few simple lines, a collection of photos become a story, and what we hold in our hands on the other side has a new weight to it—a sense of completion.

Often the journaling or storytelling is the part we do last or put off for later. It's easy to get a design done and not know what to say. But what if you did this part first? What if you took a scrap of paper, jotted down a couple lines, and then let the story inform the design? The design and the photos would become illustrations. The design, photos, and words all would all have greater impact and power by working together.

You don't have to consider yourself a poet, or even good with words to put some together in a way that adds a nice finishing touch or surprises you by becoming the meat of the meal. Today I'm sharing some of my favorite tips for using words to tell the whole story. We'll begin with creating sensory descriptions, then we'll learn how to create suspense through linear action, and we'll finish with highlighting props to fill out the story. 

Create descriptions that involve all the senses.
My strongest memories are sensory.  My mother swears to this day that we were only given the orange drink, Tang, once in our childhood, but I can still remember how it tasted.  Sweet, but with a sour twist and a smoothness that housed neither pulp nor any other natural fiber. When we stirred it in the glass, the spoon was shiny and orange, like a mirror to joy. It collided with the glass at each turn of the wrist and marked time like a clock pendulum, counting our anticipations as they grew.

For ali lucy's easter
Tastes, smells, touches and sounds are all sensory experiences we can capture from the moment and recreate for the reader with our words. Instead of the lovely photo of baby lips hanging out alone, jot down how they feel against your cheek. Light? Wet? How does that baby breath sound in your ear—does it smell new? Sweet?  

For ali gma's hands
How did your grandmother's hands feel when you held them?  What were you thinking as you studied them in your grip? What was she saying, or what were the other sounds in the room? 

Use linear action to turn a moment into a full story.
A story is quite simple to tell—it has a beginning, a middle and an end. Creating each piece can build suspense and interest in the reader. Ira Glass, the host of popular radio show This American Life, has said, “Whenever there's a sequence of events—this happened then that happened then this happened—we inevitably want to find out what happened next.” You can fill in the sequence of events with words if you have a single image.  But if you have more than one image, instead of just showing the final moment or the best shot, consider including the whole sequence with a line or more to explain.  Either way, you'll transform an interesting moment into a captivating story.

For ali mosaic
Even though spring has arrived, Lucy can't leave the house without her favorite blue hat. No longer for warmth, she shows me it's her best way to play peek-a-boo on the go.

Highlight important props in your images with your words.
Props are an important part of the story—just visit any museum to be reminded of how much of our story lives in our furniture and our pots and pans.  With a short phrase or a few sentences, you can underline the props in your images to tell the reader the whole story. 

For ali hat that was mine
The hat that was mine as a child.

For ali stroller
The stroller and buggy board that were once our only means of transportation—our way of life.  These will be soon forgotten if we don't capture them and write down what they meant to us at the time.

For ali you are seen
The gift I was given that changed everything forever.

A few words, wisely used, can turn your memorable moments into rich stories that will entertain and inform generations. Pull out some paper now—before you begin your design—and let the story be the foundation, setting the theme and tone, for the rest of your work. Remember all five senses, create a beginning, middle and end, and don't let your audience miss the important objects that hold entire tales in themselves. You'll be satisfied to have told the whole story, and it will be one they'll have a hard time forgetting.

*Ira Glass quoted from Radio: An Illustrated Guide.

Jen lee magic2

Jen Lee is a Brooklyn-based writer and a collector of stories, many of which unfold in her vibrant neighborhood or in the lives of her closest friends. A performer in NYC's storytelling scene, Jen is also the author of Solstice: Stories of Light in the Dark (click the link to listen to the audio) and Fortunes. You can follow Jen on Twitter (jenleedotnet) and read more of her work at jenlee.net.

21 thoughts

  1. Ann

    2009-08-11 02:17:43 -0400

    I am so excited about this. I want to start writing things down, and just this weekend did an online search for an article like this. I really can't wait to get to writing.
    Thank you so much!

  2. Joy Buss

    2009-08-11 03:04:50 -0400

    Thanks you so much for this segment today! Just exactly what I needed!!! So many images and feelings came to mind as I was reading this and I can't wait to "write " today. Truly inspiring. Thanks Ali & Jen!

  3. Katie

    2009-08-11 03:08:08 -0400

    Brilliant - thanks Ali & Jen! So inspiring, and I love the sweet images used as illustrations.

  4. Molly Irwin

    2009-08-11 03:20:32 -0400

    Beautifully, simply written and a very helpful reminder of why we do what we do. Thank you Jen, and Ali.

  5. Stefanie

    2009-08-11 04:13:01 -0400

    Stunning! Thanks for the awesome inspiration.
    The challenge over at www.journalingjunkie.blogspot.com is to journal in depth about one sense or to use all five to describe an event or experience.

  6. Lu

    2009-08-11 04:16:53 -0400

    Pure love. I met Jen a few weeks ago at BlogHer and that connection was unlike any I experienced that weekend. She tells stories and makes you feel them in your soul. So wonderful to see her featured here.

  7. mrstjshelby

    2009-08-11 05:16:31 -0400

    This was a wonderful reminder.

  8. Rani

    2009-08-11 05:28:02 -0400

    thanks so much for the reminder and inspiration to write down the words that capture the little moments...those times we take for granted, those times that are part of the cycle of growth..or out growth. Jen Lee is amazing!

  9. Melanie K.

    2009-08-11 06:22:07 -0400

    wow ... i feel like i should say more, but she is one hell of a writer!

  10. Connie F.

    2009-08-11 07:21:57 -0400

    Thanks for the great reminder

  11. Jen Lee

    2009-08-11 08:05:16 -0400

    Thank you, everyone, for all the kind words. I'm so happy to be dwelling here with this community today, and it just makes me feel the richness and vitality of the moments we're each inhabiting, in our times and in our places.

  12. Melissa

    2009-08-11 09:44:01 -0400

    The way Jen captured the senses really enhanced her Tang story- brought me back to my childhood- a great illustration and inspiration for my journaling. Thanks Jen & Ali

  13. Michelle Martinez

    2009-08-11 11:56:46 -0400

    What an inspiration. I loved the description of Tang. I think that's how we experience things, but, the communication of it is where I can get hung up. I have a renewed desire to share the story of our life, the story that makes us unique.

  14. Jules

    2009-08-11 12:44:43 -0400

    I have always done my journaling first and then found the perfect photo(s) to go along with it - instead of the other way around. That's not to say that I don't occasionally scrap a picture without having any words first. Thank you for reminding me the reasons "why" I do it this way.

  15. Julia/Scrappiola

    2009-08-11 15:10:02 -0400

    Beautiful - I wish I could find the words are eloquently as she, but alas, that is not my gift.

  16. [email protected]

    2009-08-11 15:55:47 -0400

    Excellent article! It's so refreshing to have a new take on how to journal. I must give this a better try. Thanks Jenn!

  17. kimberly

    2009-08-11 16:04:58 -0400

    I love how both of you remind us to take photos and write the story about the minute details of our lives. Those memories fade as quickly as the moments in the photos.

  18. amy coon

    2009-08-11 16:26:34 -0400

    Ali- Hi its Amy Coon thanks for stopping in at paperclipping tonight, loved having you hang with us! Ok I have something to ask I have had this idea over the last couple days that has taken on a life of its own and I am stunned and humbled. It is a "scrapbooking grassroots" effort to promote well scrapbooking and its artist. Check it out further here www.amyspaperlife.blogspot.com
    I want it to be about people who are huge in the industry and talent that is out there but yet been discovered as well. Its a pay it forward concept and I would love love love to get you on board. If you get a chance read my Spotlight post at the blog about it and if you could be ever so kind could I get you as a spotlight and/or a shout out here! Thanks Ali

  19. amy coon

    2009-08-11 16:28:27 -0400

    BTW loved the post too! LOL I just take it for granted that you must know I love all your posts LOL
    Amy Coon

  20. EE Tabb-Sandifer

    2009-08-18 07:45:06 -0400

    This has such clarity for taking and organizinag my thoughts, pictures and paper. Thanks for such great insight. EE

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    2009-09-23 00:00:31 -0400

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