Posts Tagged With: storytelling

Don’t be a writer. Be a Storyteller.

Tell your story. Tell that of others. Don’t be a writer. Be a Storyteller.

Consider a tombstone — a monument to one’s life…the inscription typically focuses on the years when a person was born and subsequently passed away, a person’s life is actually represented by the ‘dash’ in between (i.e., 1964-2042).

This dash represents the essence of our lives — the succession of joys, sorrows, successes, failures…If you could write the story of your dash, how would it read? Would it be full of regrets for the things you did or didn’t do? Or would it be a tribute to all that you attempted to do, be, and accomplish while you were alive?

– Anthony Paustian, writing in A Quarter Million Steps.

Find Your Purpose. Find Your Story.

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“Unexpected” Stories

Writers often tell of when their stories take on a life of their own. Non-writers might think this sounds mystical or strange, but it happens to nearly every writer. Thriller author J. F. Penn explains:

I don’t have a plot. I do have an opening scene and I’ve had an opening scene in my head for a while…That will then spark the story, but I do know that I will have these various aspects that will go into it…Then what happens is synchronicity. As I said, this is the ‘magic’ aspect that I find happens when I’m researching is that something will come up totally unexpected that makes the story work…And that synchronicity of story emerging from fascination and research still just makes me shiver a little bit, because it happens every time. Stephen King talks about the emergence of the story. That story is a ‘found thing.’ I believe that. I think I go looking for a story in the real world and then I will twist part of the reality into the thing that’s fiction.

Much like sculptors who say they are only revealing what is hidden in the rock, writers uncover stories hidden right in front of us. These are the kind of stories that readers love to get lost in. Even though they realize they are reading fiction — often fantastic at that — those bits grounded in reality blur the lines and draw them in even more.

All because a story revealed itself.

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A Story Cliché or the Story we all Want to Tell?

I was reading a discussion concerning a certain fantasy author and someone asked if the author was a cliché writer. This appeared to have been asked as a bit of a put-down. What was meant by cliché writer? Since the writer has authored almost exclusively fantasy, I suspect the critics meant the story line so popular to the genre: Reluctant hero convinced to undertake some sort of quest; Hero joins with others who support the quest; Quest includes finding some object or another and defeating a terrible evil.

Is it fair to call this a cliché? I don’t think so.

In the simplest definition of the word, something becomes a cliché through overuse, not necessarily through any fundamental flaw with item in question. This supposed fantasy trope is a common framework, but it is the details in execution that differ with each story that make it succeed. If the critics were being fair, they would recognize that this cliché isn’t unique to fantasy, but — in one form another — prevalent across much of storytelling.

The reluctant-hero-team-up-battle-evil-save-the-world plot is at the heart of nearly every superhero film or show so popular now. However, it isn’t unique to the fantastic. How many other thrillers, adventures, mysteries or whatever you can think of include one or more of what is supposedly unique to fantasy? Better yet, why is this story line the bedrock of so much human storytelling? John Eldridge explains in his book Epic

Notice that all the great stories pretty much follow the same story line. Things were once good, then something awful happened, and now a great battle must be fought or a journey taken…

It’s true of every fairy tale, every myth, every Western, every epic…Have you ever wondered why?

Every story, great and small, shares the same essential structure because every story we tell borrows its power from a Larger Story, a Story woven in the fabric of our being…

All of these stories borrow from the Story. From Reality. We hear echoes of it through our lives. Some secret written on our hearts. A great battle to fight, and someone to fight for us. An adventure, something that requires everything we have, something to be shared with those we love and need.

There is a Story that we just can’t seem to escape. There is a Story written on the human heart.

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Heroes and Legends

Famed J.R.R. Tolkien biographer, Professor Thomas A. Shippey, in his course Heroes and Legends, writes on the “universal human art form” of storytelling:

…Over the millennia of human history, millions of tales, novels, romances and epics have been written, published, and many more must have been told in the far longer millennia of prehistory. The vast majority vanished without a trace once their immediate purpose had been served – forgotten, discarded, out of print.

A small number survive and become classics. Of that small number, an even smaller number does more than survive: They inspire imitations, sequels, remakes and responses. It is the heroes and heroines – and sometimes the villains – of these super-survivors who have created and continue to create our imaginative world. “Don’t the great tales never end?” asks the hobbit Sam Gamgee…Sam has good reason to see that the answer is: No, they don’t.

…Most of all, the “great tales” offer an insight into the human heart, in all its variety and complexity, that nothing else can provide.

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Timeless Storytelling

Frederick Buechner wrote (as quoted by John Eldredge in The Sacred Romance) that “there has never been an age that has not produced fairy tales.” Eldredge adds, “There is something deeply true about a fairy tale. It is a timeless form of storytelling because it..captures both our deepest fears and highest hopes.” Buechner also wrote:

…the world is full of darkness and danger and ambiguity…There are fierce dragons who guard the treasure…To take the wrong turning of the path is to risk being lost in the forest forever, and an awful price has to be paid…It is a world of dark and dangerous quests…

In other words, fairy tales, fantasy and other fiction are not purely escapist in their design. They remind of us of the world we live in as so many try to pretend it is not that way. Those stories also remind of us of what burns inside us and tell us not to suppress hope, courage and wonder.

That is why Storytelling is an essential part of our culture that must never disappear.

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Writing 101

Many of you just finished National Novel Writing Month, and if you finished, now it’s time to buckle down and start editing. So here’s a collection of my favorite writing posts: Outlining, Flashbacks, Storytelling vs. Writing, Being Entertaining & Thoughtful and Showing & Telling.

Share your own or from other sites and then get to work!

P.S. And if you haven’t seen it yet, click here, or just scroll down, for the cover reveal of Among the Shadows.

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Storytelling Vs. Writing

Phillip Athans writes in his book, The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction:

Storytelling is at the heart of any genre of fiction…Teaching writing is relatively easy, but teaching storytelling is close to impossible.

Think about that. In all the writing classes you’ve sat in, or writing books you’ve read, are all the grammar tips and sentence structure mandates what makes or breaks your story? Yes, if your mastery of English is horrible, then your book isn’t going to find many readers. On the other hand, if you follow every “rule” to the letter, ignoring the flexibility of the language, will your great story be buried under perfect 8th-grade English? Perfect schoolroom grammar and perfect writing are not necessarily the same thing. And perfect writing is not gripping, immersive or compelling.

That is where the story comes in. Stay away from those things that will ruin it. Be a storyteller first, and if you really care about that, the rest will come.

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Disruptive Honesty

How honest are you with other people? Or do you find yourself doing what John Eldredge writes in Beautiful Outlaw:

We chitchat. We spend our days at a level of conversation as substantive as smoke. We dance around one another like birds in a ritual, bobbing, ducking, puffing out our chests, flapping our wings, circling one another, no advancing, now retreating…Let’s be honest – why aren’t we more honest with each other? Because it will cost us.

It will offend people. People don’t like being challenged. We don’t want to be seen as rocking the boat. Maybe that’s what draws so many to writing. Explore truth through storytelling. Some may think that this is a flaw in us, not being able to talk directly to each other. To an extent this is true, but our minds our wired for imagination. It is the source for innovation, thought and revolution. Storytelling reaches back into the depths of history in every culture. Homer. Chaucer. Milton. Dante. Twain. Poe. Dickens. Even Christ used stories to reach people.

Stories can be the gateway to Truth. They will never go away.

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