The Language of Storytelling
An inner character transcript on the language of storytelling.
This post is written using Norman's Inner Characters.
In Norman's inner world, Kazan. Podrick the Podcast Chicken bursts into the scene, an assortment of characters sitting by a campfire.
PODRICK (PODCASTING): Soldiers of the inner society! Assemble!
PODRICK: And it's in a special format. It's in podcast essay form.
The Fool (CURIOSITY, QUESTIONS): Interesting! What does that mean, I wonder?
PODRICK: Well, if I were to take a guess: it would be like a script between people involved to uncover the truth behind a topic. Cloever, I'm going to need your help on this.
N.T. CLOEVER (CREATIVITY): Indeed, it seems like this would be closer to my field.
MASAHIRO (LOGIC): Podrick, as much as you're the one about podcasting, I don't think you have anything to say for this one.
PODRICK: Bokbok! What!? But it says podcasting in the tweet! I could say a million things about this! When I was younger-
MASAHIRO: Yeaaaaah, I don't think you can. It's the topic, not the form we're talking about here.
The Fool pushes Podrick out of Kazan.
All stories are questions
All is cool and well in the night winds of Kazan. The waters are tranquil, and the subtle crackling of the campfire echoes in the silence.
MASAHIRO: Hmmm. Can you teach storytelling?
CLOEVER: Indeed, it is possible. It's another form of articulation. To make good use of it is creativity at its finest.
MASAHIRO: How would you teach it though? It's not a tool we can pass to another human being. I can't teach it like I would Geography. There is no map of storytelling to memorize.
CLOEVER: Rather than thinking of it as knowledge learned explicitly, think of it as something else: how does a baby learn how to walk?
MASAHIRO: By looking at the adults around them?
CLOEVER: And how does a baby learn to speak?
MASAHIRO: They mimic their parents. What are you trying to get at, Cloever?
CLOEVER: And why do little kids ask questions all the time?
MASAHIRO: Because... they are trying to fill in the gaps?
CLOEVER: That is the basis of a story, isn't it? All stories start with questions.
What if I enter this fantasy world of magic and dragons? What if I reminisce about that time in childhood? What if I poetically ponder on the fields of humanity?
And so we answer, and that answer is the Story.
MASAHIRO: It's deeper than that though, I'm sure. And I can think of a few ways where those examples may fall apart, plus not all kids who try to answer them inject the same level of imagination into them. There has to be structure.
Even then, how would one structure a story though? Simple, isn't it? A beginning, a middle, an end? You bring characters in through conflict, have problems getting solved, all in the name of narrative that is captivating and wonderful to witness?
I would imagine that the logical fine tunings of a story succumb to a specific element of Order. We need to know the constraints of a story before we can make any effort to understand it. Otherwise, stories don't land for their readers, and Speakers are wasting time talking out into the void.
A story lost is weightless time in darkness, regrettably.
CLOEVER: it's deeper than that, my friend. Constraints that exist end up becoming predictable, and just as how we in real life cannot predict our future, we thrive on uncertainty as a pull to the next line in a story.
So, indeed, there may be a beginning, middle, end. But what of new beginnings overlapping middles? What about ends that give birth to new beginnings? What if cycles of tales give birth to new ones? The depth, the complexity, all of that adds color. All of that makes it worth continuing the story.
Now think of your favorite works, the most beautiful words ever written. Why are they beautiful? Why, they illustrate possibilities for your young mind. They challenge you; they give you a chance to imagine what is written.
Why else would a writer describe the room in which a scene is playing other than that it adds to that narrative! Orange-colored walls will look different in all of our eyes.
Podrick's head pops out into Kazan.
PODRICK: What do you mean? Isn't it just orange?
CLOEVER: That is where you are wrong, my friend. We can all point to orange and say it is orange, but how do we know that which is in your mind's eye is the same as mine?
Podrick: It's orange, it's all orange! We can all point to it and agree it's orange, WAIT WAIT IM TELLING THE TRUT-
The Fool pushes Podrick out of Kazan again.
THE FOOL: But we can't mind read! Your orange could be different from mine. My orange may be harsher than yours, and someone might think it disgusting whilst others healthy. How do we tell that it's the same then?
CLOEVER: It's simple. We narrow it down it's all in the story being told. You won't ever be able to give them the same imagery as another, but you'd be able to give them the possibility to.
MASAHIRO: Ahhh, I see. Think of darts on a dartboard. Every time we speak, we aim to hit bullseye with every word we choose. If it lands well, bullseye. But we won't always be accurate. Sometimes, the words we pick are gusts of wind that make the dart swerve away. Sometimes the board itself will move. But the intent is the same.
Writers, or storytellers in that regard, are those who can navigate the winds of misunderstanding to hit bullseye all the time.
THE FOOL: Wow, Masahiro. I didn't take you for a poetic kinda guy. Are you taking Cloever's job?
MASAHIRO: I'm just thinking out loud here. Hmph!
CLOEVER: Ha ha ha. I welcome anyone to take my words for themselves. It means they are trying! It means they are looking from my perspective! That is what stories are, right?
"I'm shooting darts for you; now look from my point of view what the dart board is."
But really, we pick our words carefully. Is it a harsh orange or a healthy one? Is it the orange of juice or the orange of sunset? When you read what you've described, do you feel it too?
It's all in what is chosen for the reader.
Storytelling is comedic truth as a language
Duo Desire, the twins sharing one Mask, enter Kazan.
DIA/DEI: Hello hello, hello all!
THE FOOL: Hello to the both of you, Duo Desire.
MASAHIRO: You're just in time, help us with this. How do you tell a story?
DIA DESIRE (COMEDY): Hah! A story? You can't TELL a story!
CLOEVER: what do you mean, my dear Dia?
DIA: Storytelling doesn't exist! It's us speaking out loud what we imagine as truths, even for a moment! Fiction is that isn't it? A real tale in a different world. Stories are the same - for a moment, they're imagining it to be real for a second. That's listening.
But we don't tell them, we're asking them. Like me! I tell a joke, I make people laugh, and they howl in response. Isn't that story telling? But comedy then is an obvious truth told in an entertaining manner. Some people laugh, some people get offended, but it's the same. They're listening.
CLOEVER: so what is a story to you then, Dia?
DIA: A story is the greatest joke of all time. It sweeps them off their feet on this earth and plonks them in another imaginary situation. I'm taking them for a ride. I don't tell the story - I'm conducting their journey. They're on my train, it's my role to make them feel something. Think of me as a feels doctor, haha!
Dumb stuff, funny stuff, offensive stuff, dark stuff. These are just stops on the way to the last station. And then they get off the platform back to reality, ready to board another one at another time.
If you think about it even more, I'm the train, I'm the voice on the speakers, and I'm telling you what happens. I AM THE TRAIN!
MASAHIRO: But you can't be the train, everyone can't be ON you when you're the one leading it and-
DIA: and? And what brought you to that conclusion?
MASAHIRO: isn't that obvious? I thought of it, and-
DIA: Yes! You thought of it! I said something to made you think of something. I triggered you!
Dia starts prancing around the campfire in glee. Masahiro is annoyed.
Did I ever tell you I wasn't the train? Did I tell you my rules? Does reality have to make sense in my world? No! In my world, what makes sense to me makes sense to my story, and I'm inviting you to break your rules to get my point. I'm forcing you to put on a cape of disbelief. I'm inviting you to be me! But what IS me right now?
I can be the conductor, the train, the air around you. I can be anything! I can even tell jokes about the people on the train. I can be YOU on the train, all I have to do is say "You ArE oN tHe TraINnn~"
But you! You, my dear friend you! What did you do to arrive there? You told a story to yourself! To make sense of whatever ridiculous humbug I said, you had to imagine it in your head to make sense of what I say. You told a story to yourself to get what I'm saying.
You see? Storytelling doesn't exist, because it's a language. It's not an event, it's part of nature! You're storytelling all the time to yourself to make sense of whatever is in front. I'm just more intentional in what to trigger you with.
So tell me, what else would you like to happen? In my world, I am God!
I can make the train fly,
I can make everyone apple pie,
I can send us off to die!
I can make us get all the runnies,
From being sick and right down to our tummies,
So we all take the train to the giant toilet
Just because I think it's funny! HAHAHAHAHAH!
Dia falls to the floor, laughing. Arms wide open cackling at the air around them. There was nothing in the cold air, but he was blissful being surrounded by everything around him, laughing to himself until he started crying tears of joy. He calms down after a while.
DIA: But it's all for the truth! The language of truth for a mere moment. That's what it is. Mine just happens to be funny, that's all.
Storytelling is a state
MASAHIRO: well someone's getting too cryptic with their words. Dei, what about you? You've been with this ridiculous idiot for so long. If he finds stories funny, what do you find that's warm about them?
DEI DESIRE (WARMTH/EMPATHY): Oh dear me. I get what my Other Half is saying, I really do. It may not be the same as how I would say it though.
CLOEVER: Pray tell, how would you describe it?
DEI: Well, storytelling can also be a state of mind too. Imagine if I embrace you now, there would be warmth between us, no?
DEI: What does that tell you about me?
CLOEVER: That you are a loving and caring person.
DEI: And what does that tell you about the moment?
MASAHIRO: That you intend to share this warmth with us?
DEI: Indeed. Now. Did I ever say anything about my intentions?
DEI: So how did you arrive at that conclusion?
DEI: It's a state. Like my Other Half thinks of it as a language, a story is a state you embody. I did not tell anything, but my actions have, and you in your current state finished the blanks. You wrote the rest of the words in, I merely triggered that possibility.
It's a conversation between us. Through my warmth, you are dancing within my palm. I as your partner, lead you through the melody of words, and in turn you know what steps to take.
A story is a state of paired affairs. The speaker speaks, the writer writes; it does not matter how they do it. But universally, they all dance - and us too to their rhythm, and throughout each step, we ask ourselves: do we keep dancing? Do we pick up the pace, or do we slow down in an embrace? Do we hug, do we kiss, do we ask for more?
Stories are a state of dancing within your mind. That's all it is. Warmth, in essence, is the closest word to describe the feeling that emerges from this.
CLOEVER: I understand. The resonance in your words with my experiences rings true.
Neither the greatest stories ever told, whatever the words they picked, would stand the test of time if they do not make us dance. Do we feel cold on the stage should we begin the first step? Then no, we cannot hear the language of story, we cannot enter the state of mind. We cannot dance on cold feet, we must pair up to with the orator to begin.
How do you begin?
MASAHIRO: So how do you begin?
CLOEVER: To begin, we must recognize that it's paired. As the speaker or writer, we have full control over what is spoken and unspoken in the mediums captured.
Imagine if I described too much about what happens, all in one go. There is no mystery, but an incoming prediction. You will know what happens next, you have all the clues, and now you can fill in the gaps.
Now imagine if I described nothing at all. What can you gather from that? It will be too chaotic, anything can happen. What is a story if there is nothing to thread the center of it?
The key is moderation - the spectrum between both. Not to be equally centered at all times, but both little and much at intervals of your choice. You pick your poisons, and you drip them in.
Do you set the scene with a shocking reveal, and add pulses of shocking things slowly and surely? Is it a simplistic scene, but with a shocking reveal right in the last paragraph? Will you make us dance steady and frantic by the last bar, or a crescendo to a climactic finish?
MASAHIRO: Is there a right answer for this?
CLOEVER: No, I believe there isn't, and I believe there will never be. And that is for good reason. Having no absolutes, as you can attest to, is the best to include a variety of human experimentation.
There will be other characters from others' inner societies that will arrive at different conclusions, and the stories they tell will be a different flavor. The challenge is to never stay with one style, one interval, one rhythm. We humans are irregular. We are not one-trick ponies.
Savor popular lines of thinking for the masses to consume: the stories we create, the dances we will manifest; they will stand the test of time beyond humanity. So the few that understand, the purer the essence, and so does their willingness to dive deep into the abyss just as you have done so writing this story in the first place.
Confronting the Story
All the characters turn towards you.
CLOEVER: Do you know how you feel when you tell a story? Are you conscious about how you sound, are you conscious about how your body moves when you do so?
When you pick a word, how particular are you about it? These stories, these things we hold, reflect on your personality. Stories are fragmented replicas of our articulating selves. I can see you in them. I should be able to. And like fragments of glass, I should be able to keep your reflection in my pocket when I want to read your story.
Through your story, I speak your language. Through story, I can enter your state of mind. Through story, I felt a sense of your warmth. Through your craft, you translate this moment for me. Through prolific progress, you give me a chance to practice your experiences in abundance. Novels, speeches, performances - it's all material to build you in my mind.
And when I have you in my mind, I can recreate your story in my head as I read it.
So go ahead and write, and speak. Tell us of your rules, your characters, your trials, your tribulations. Tell us of your insanity, your mind, your reality. Tell us of your chosen words, your twists, your minute decisions. Tell us of the structure you chose, orderly as you choose it to be, and even in chaotic mess can you show us pure gold.
You are giving me a chance to tell a story to myself. Your story. The language of your mind, the state you choose to be in with the truth you possess.
You are giving me a chance. Make me chase after it. Permit me to dance to your rhythm. Bestow upon me your melody.
And in return, you have my dearest gratitude.
Until next time friend,
I'll be waiting,
By the Fire.