Too Many Curators in the Kitchen

Today’s guest author, Lana Krumwiede, is a self-proclaimed board game queen who has an interesting look at the similarities between writing a novel and curating.  Lana debuts next month with her MG novel, FREAKLING. Peek below to see the wonderful cover.

I feel sorry for buzz words. They're like actors who have the misfortune of being typecast for the rest of their lives. So sad. The latest victim is a perfectly good word: curate. These days, people are curating everything from spice racks to retail inventory. Even so, at a recent conference, the word caught my attention when someone commented that authors should think of themselves as story curators.

I've been thinking about the concept of story curating, and I decided it's not a bad term for the past five years of laboring to bring my story into the world. After all, "show, don't tell" is the writer's watch cry, and I love thinking of the scenes of my story as a series of displays, selected and arranged in thoughtful order by me, the story curator. I can testify that a lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into getting those displays set up just so.

First comes research. The story curator has to become a subject specialist on everything related to the story. My research included various theories of psychokinesis. Some people think that moving things with mental exertion might be possible if we could figure out how to make better use of our brain and tap into certain cosmic connections. Even though this is the fantasy element of Freakling, I needed it to sound perfectly logical and even mundane in Taemon's world. Research was key. It became grist for the world-building mill. That is, I was able to use this information to create a setting that felt rich and layered and real. But a story curator's expertise doesn't end with setting. She must know everything about the character, the character's family, and the events leading up to the story. That's a mountain of information--too much, in fact. Which leads nicely to the story curator's next task.

A story curator carefully chooses items for the exhibit. The curator knows he can't possibly fit all the items he's collected into the space available. So he sorts through everything and selects only those pieces that will best portray the emotion, communicate the story, and help patrons connect with the characters. Every author has to do this, whether it's during an outlining process or after the first draft. Tough choices have to be made, or the story suffers.

A story curator makes decisions about the arrangement and presentation of the exhibit.  For this part of the job, the curator needs a strong sense of story. What is the most logical sequence of events? What is the best beginning? How will the tension build? How will I create the context that the patron needs to make sense of the exhibit? How will I set up the climax? These decisions will affect the emotional impact and the satisfaction that the patron feels at the end of the exhibit.

The story curator is responsible for the care of the objects in the exhibit. This comes into play as a writer seeks out an agent and a publisher for the story. You are assembling a team to care for and nurture your story, so find people you can trust. You are your story's best advocate.

After all that work, to see the exhibit finally open to the public is an incredible feeling. It's the story curator's finest moment. And curator, may I point out, is still a perfectly good word.

Lana Krumwiede began her writing career by writing stories and poetry for magazines such as Highlights, High Five, Spider, Babybug, The Friend, and Chicken Soup for the Child’s Soul. Her first novel, Freakling, will be released October 9th from Candlewick Press. Freakling is the story of Taemon, a boy who lives in a city where everyone has telekinetic powers called psi. Everyone, that is, but Taemon. Lana had tried has tried psi many times, especially in association with household chores, but could never make it work. A sequel to Freakling is scheduled for a Fall 2013 release. You can learn more about Freakling at Lana’s website:


Chelsey said...

As always, the metaphor leads to the perfect understanding. I love this! Beautifully worded and helpful to all of us that know the giant animal you had to eat and you do it like all the rest of bite at a time!!!

Lana Krumwiede said...

Thanks, Chelsea. Eating the giant animal--there's another good metaphor!

Chris Sorensen @ csorensenwrite said...

Story curation - I love it...genius! Just the phrase itself paints a picture of what we as writer's should be doing. Great job Lana!

PS - Self-professed board game queen - who knew!? I'll be thinking of you tonight when I'm playing Catan:-)

Jan Doets said...

... an then to think that there is even a story curator in The Netherlands!In three languages..
Greetings, Jan Doets