Story Wise

Your life is filled with stories: you woke up late, you found a dollar, you killed a man–which one would you like to hear first? I think I know the answer already, but please take your time to weigh the options.

Don’t feel bad because you picked man murder. It’s human nature to be fascinated by the grimmer tale. Who cares if you found a dollar, there isn’t a conflict in that story. How do we make that more interesting? Let’s find the dollar caught atop a twenty-foot tall evergreen tree and the phone number of an over-sexed man-eater you met at a coffee shop just happens to be jotted across President Washington’s pale green forehead. Now there’s a story! It took some time and a thimble of imagination, but we now have the ingredients for a story worth telling/hearing. We have a conflict, a want, and an obstacle. The murder story grabbed our attention immediately because that premise required almost zero imagination to become a story. We can deduce that there was a significant conflict if you killed somebody. The want could have been a number of reasons. Maybe the man was threatening you or someone you love and you wanted that to stop. The man now becomes the obstacle you need to overcome, or in this case defeat.

People gravitate towards stories that reveal a main character’s humanity, something that the audience can identify with and feel what the character feels. A character pushed to extremes often reveals the most. Remember that nice lady at your job that makes polite small talk with you every morning? She’s not revealing anything when she’s happy and in control, but earlier in the week she lost her cool and cursed out one of the mail room attendants. Wasn’t that shocking, and memorable, and glorious? In that moment, pushed to extremes, that nice lady revealed herself. Her emotions ignited and there was no place to hide them. That’s the story you tell your friends and family about, not the hundred or more instances of civil banter–the more dire the conflict, the bigger the payoff story-wise.

And that is why we are here today. This blog is about storytelling–what makes a story compelling, what makes a story boring, and how there are more mediums for telling stories than there has ever been. I must admit, that earlier bit about the conflict, the want, and the obstacle was not something I invented. I learned about those elements from a workshop for creative writing I attended in Chicago this past summer. The extent of my knowledge for writing comes from a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts which amounts to a few courses in fiction and poetry. I am not a teacher, nor am I an expert on writing craft. Hell, I haven’t even published anything, but I hope that you’re reading this blog with even less experience and know-how than I. We were brought here by a passion for story craft and the will to become great storytellers. Education and degrees are major accomplishments, but ultimately writers write. Your background doesn’t matter if you don’t put in the time at the desk and tell your story. Whether that story is performed, written, recorded, or programmed, this blog will examine how the story is forged and how that process will beat the living shit out of you/me.

I hope you will stop in often.

–M. Michael Chwedyk

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