We’re all storytellers. That’s why we’re in this business. True, there are many people in this business who are not in it because of the stories but because it is a business. There are widgets to be sold and they can make a lot of money selling them. But you and I are the widget makers. And at the very outset we need to decide what kind of widgets we want to make. What kind of stories do you want to tell? And why? Do you want to tell stories so that you can sell them, make some money, have a career? Or do you want to tell stories because you have something to say? Be clear where your priorities are. Embrace your goals with passion and move forward.
I seem to be the kind of widget maker that feels he has something to say. Somewhere locked in my DNA is a compelling energy that has insists that my stories must have meaning and purpose and integrity, that they have the intention to enlighten and inform. I could blame my parents, I guess, or their parents. Not sure who to blame. But somebody is responsible. This wasn’t my idea.
In my earlier years in this business I tried as hard as I could to be the other kind of widget maker. I tried to focus on being a shrewd and clever businessman, a purveyor of profit, a creator of commerce. But, try as I might, I couldn’t seem to quiet the very loud voices in my head that insisted on being meaningful, making a point, being about something, being authentic and real.
So, I was doomed from the outset. And even today I am haunted by my constant insistence that stories make sense, that stories have a reason for existing, that they have a legacy. (New thought: ‘Some stories have legs and others have legacy.’ What do I do with thoughts like this?) And I mean haunted because I am frequently in discussion of story, a particular story or just story in general, with friends, colleagues or clients. And I can feel that insistent little voice that says, “It can be better. It can go deeper, there’s hidden meaning in there if you are willing to look for it.” That voice, it seems, will never be silent. Years ago I tried to silence it and failed. Occasionally I will get annoyed looks from friends or clients – the look that says, “Why can’t you just be satisfied with what we have? Why isn’t that enough? It’s just a widget like a lot of other widgets.” And then they’ll even compare the widget in question with other very successful (read profitable) widgets and I can feel another voice inside me saying, “Why can’t you just let it go? Be satisfied with mediocre. That’s what sells. Mediocre. Don’t you know how difficult it is to create ‘just mediocre’. People are happy with mediocre, they just want to be entertained.” And there is a part of me that would love to listen to that voice, follow that voice, happily creating mediocre. But I can’t. I’m doomed. So the only thing I know to do is ‘embrace the passion’ and pray that it will sustain me. (Another new thought: Mutual Sustenance. If I sustain it, will it sustain me? It’s a great question. I wish I knew who had the answer.)
So, there are widgets I want to make and widgets I want to support. It’s a small, enthusiastic, iconoclastic, often discouraged struggling community that I belong to. But it’s the community that produces widgets (films, books, plays) of such passion and insight that they leave me breathless. What more could I ask for?
Now this preference, this passion, this addiction that I have for making meaningful widgets is going to color every choice I make as I enter the world of storytelling. Important that you know this if you are going to follow me on this path. You see it’s like dating. It’s a good idea to have some notion of the sensibilities, preferences and priorities of the other person before you embark on the perilous journey of creating a relationship.
Here’s a big question. What is a story? If the widgets we are making are stories, then how do we define them?
And, before we attempt to define story, I want to make on thing very clear. As storytellers, as purveyors of yarns that are intended to entertain, educate, inspire or intrigue, we have to be aware that our yarns can assume several different forms. Like shape-shifters, our stories can take morph themselves into a variety of shapes depending on the story, the intended recipients and the circumstances. Some possible shapes: novel, short story, poem, play, film, memoir, oral, audio, visual, etc. You get the idea. But before we decide what shape we want our story to shift into, we need to understand what the story is. What it is all about. What it wants to say. What journey it wants to take the recipient (listener, audience, viewer, reader) on. When you, the storyteller, the widget maker begin to comprehend the essence and raison d’être of your story you will also feel, from within the story, which shape will serve it best. You need to allow the story to tell you. Be careful that you don’t force your story into the wrong box just because you like the box.
Okay. Enough for today. Tomorrow (Muses willing) we’ll talk about the elements of a story. We will try to explore what story is. And maybe we’ll get to how and why stories impact us so deeply. Muses willing.
Oh, a side note. And you can ignore this totally if you like. A dear friend and magnificent writer told me that the way to get people attracted to your blog was by including key phrases that would register in the search engines. For me it would be phrases like: storytelling, directing feature films, first-time director, directing actors, writing screenplays, acting on camera. And then he told me that you should write these key phrases three times in each blog you write. Well, this both intrigued me and annoyed me and fascinated me and perplexed me (I know, ‘both’ is supposed to be two things). How was I going to write whatever was coming into my head if my head was full of these phrases? So, I have a solution. Hold on. I’ve already written those phrases once and now all I need is two more times. So here goes: storytelling, directing feature films, first-time director, directing actors, writing screenplays, acting on camera, storytelling, directing feature films, first-time director, directing actors, writing screenplays, acting on camera.
Now that’s done. Let’s hope it works.
Meanwhile, if you find this blog at all interesting, please pass it on to your friends.