Matt Madden’s 99 Ways to Tell a Story is a great exercise in creativity where he draws the same scene (him stopping work to get food, while talking with his partner) in 99 different unique ways. I’ve known of the book and its great content for years, but since Matt recently gave me a copy of the book, I wanted to make some comments about it…
One of the great aspects of this book is how overtly it shows the difference between meaning and narrative. The meaning is fairly constant throughout all 99 tellings (its what is being told), but the narrative is totally different (how it is told).
This distinction is important, because it can lead us to ask what makes different narrative styles function? How can different narrative techniques all tell the same basic meaning, and how do those styles change the meaning through their presentation?
These questions are actually the motivating issues to most of my recent research. They also reflect the same types of questions that are asked about the construction of sentences:
what makes different [grammar] function? How can different [sentence patterns] all tell the same basic meaning, and how [does that grammar] change the meaning through their presentation?
This is a wonderful book, and very useful for novice writers looking to get a sense of how different perspectives, frames, or points of view can influence the telling of a story.
"Meaning," though is one of those words that trips up conversations between writers and linguists (it's certainly led to some confusion in our own conversations). From my perspective, meaning has nothing at all to do with what's being told, but everything to do with the purpose in telling it.