Nothing drones on more than a boring story. It’s like that scene in Finding Nemo when Marlin takes Nemo to his first day of school and the other fathers ask Marlin to say something funny just because he is a clown fish. Marlin attempts to tell a joke, but botches it because he is a poor storyteller. He can’t remember how the joke goes, or what the punch line is.
Because my writing style is along the lines of the vignette, I have become a student of the art of storytelling. I pay attention to how stories are told in all mediums. In music, for example, good song writers convey a story, or a world view, or an opinion in three minutes. How do they do that and still account for repeating verses?
Storytelling can take on many forms. For instance, many comedians are story tellers. I remember listening to Bill Cosby’s comedy routines many years ago, mesmerized by the stories and waiting for the punch line end to the story.
Dane Cook is a contemporary comedian that I love listening to because he is a great story teller. He will weave elaborate tales with many rabbit trails in between, and I’m always dumbfounded by how he keeps track of all the balls he has in the air at one time. Very little of his routine is joke/punch line based, but rather it’s the story itself that is funny, with enhancement through the words he chooses to enunciate, and the theatrical way he contorts his body, and his use of a simple stool as a prop.
Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion is a great storyteller. When I listen to his deep, soothing voice on NPR Saturday afternoons I pay particular attention to his stories from Lake Wobegon because he brings his characters to life with intricate details of their personalities and quirkiness. He captures the everydayness of Lake Wobegon. The simplicity. From him I learn how to build a character – and not only out of a fictional person, but out of an entire town, a setting. The town of Lake Wobegon is as much of a character in his stories as the Lutheran minister is a character.
I read a book many years ago titled, ‘A Short History of a Small Place’ that also weaved intricate characters together to form a quirky little town. It very much reminded me of Garrison’s storytelling.
Movies are obviously storytellers. But I think since I’ve become more prolific at shooting and editing my own videos I better understand the role of an editor in the movie making process. When I created the video of Zoe’s parents I had probably 30 minutes of data to choose from – I could have taken just about any direction I wanted to, as long as it fit within 5 minutes. Through editing we set the tone of the story; we manipulate it.
From television I enjoy LOST because of the unveiled nature of the show. The writers reveal things subtly, and one has to pay close attention. Much room is left for guessing and predicting. It is intelligent. I also enjoy Brothers and Sisters because of the intricately woven family dynamic. There is the drug-addicted son, and the co-dependent mother, and the older sister who shoulders responsibility, and the break-out sister with differing political views, and the gay son who picks up the slack, and a little adultery thrown in the mix. The relationships are complicated, and they are given their due complication. Conflicts are not resolved easily or quickly, Cosby style, but rather are deeply planted and difficult to wade through. There is no good guy or bad guy. Rather, there are individuals who are, as Faulkners says, in conflict with themselves.
The body of work I intend to write will likely be a collection of essays on a theme, and my stories will need to be concise. Each essay will be one piece of the entire puzzle.
What are your favorite stories? Your favorite storytellers? Why?