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2014-05-22

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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May 21, 2014 - 8:01pm

Summer Storytelling: A crash course in storytelling

BY LOGAN GARDNER

Hello,

First and foremost, thank you for clicking. If you’re reading even this sentence, then I sincerely appreciate your interest. This is going to be a blog about storytelling. In it, I’m going to attempt to explore a variety of different subjects within the well-trodden but often-unexamined realm of storytelling.

This summer, I will talk about things like, scene-setting, characterization, finding inspiration, the way in which our brain perceives and reacts and more. The ways to discuss story are as diverse and varied as the stories themselves. But, for now, I would just like to give a basic overview of what a study of storytelling entails.

“A story is a joke,” Andrew Stanton says in his http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxDwieKpawg >TED Talk “Clues to a great story.” This TED talk gives one of the best descriptions of storytelling I’ve ever heard. Stanton is creative director at Pixar, and one of the most intelligent storytellers in the world. Stories are exchanged for entertainment — emotional reaction elicited purely from spoken word. All stories have this same basic goal in mind: to create emotional response.

Creating an emotional response is the only way to keep a brain entertained. But, because of the incredible complexity of our brains, the way in which we as individuals perceive and interpret these emotional responses is incredibly rich and varied. That’s because our brains work based on our impressions and experiences.

These impressions and experiences are why Stanton’s first rule of storytelling is “make me care,” because the ultimate goal of every storyteller is to draw an emotional response from their audience.

One of the most important things a storyteller can understand is how our brains become emotionally invested. A skilled storyteller knows how to create moments where the audience becomes “hooked.” An audience that is hooked on a story has basically, in listening, forgotten themselves.

Because engaging an audience has become so much more difficult in this distracted digital age, it’s that much more important for storytellers to be thinking critically about the emotional strings they’re pulling to draw an audience in.

All stories contain some element of suspense. They are all built around some unanswered question. Knowing how to balance questions and answers is the key to creating this suspense. Stanton calls this skill “knowing your punchline.”

So what exactly is storytelling? It’s the link between the physical world and the imagined one, where our consciousness thrives. Stories are the place that we put our dreams, our fears, our sins and everything in between. It’s through stories that we make sense of our experiences.

Our stories, both the ones we tell and the ones we listen to, are reflections of our soul. And I hope that, as I continue to write, we can both grow in our understanding of what these reflections are saying, both about us and the world in which we live.

Logan Gardner can be reached at logybear@umich.edu.


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