Whether we know it or not, I think everyone is a born storyteller. After all, we tell ourselves stories every minute of every day. When we walk down the street our eyes are telling our brain a story. We can't possibly take in everything we see, so our imagination fills in the gaps. We see three people walking together, one of them is a child, we might tell ourselves the story that they are a family. We see two people sitting on a bench at a certain distance from each other, we might tell ourselves the story that they are strangers, or that they are a couple who have just had massive row.
I think that the best stories are told in such a way that allows individual imagination to fill in the gaps of what is presented to us. Because then they become our stories. They become unique to us and our life experience. As a result they come to mean more to us and they become part of our individual culture. In essence, I think stories make us who we are.
I like to tell stories with music.
When I was young my Dad decided that he wanted to learn to play the guitar so that he could play songs to me and my brother at bedtime. I don't remember being particularly fascinated by the guitar back then or by the singing, but interestingly enough I remember all those songs that were played to me. And it's not so much the melodies I remember, but the stories they told...
So when I eventually started writing songs, I suppose I was always more concerned with the story than with a melody or a style. Because I think that melody, harmony, rhythm and lyric are storytelling tools rather than the heart of a piece of music. We are, first and foremost emotional, irrational beings. The research has been done, that's literally how our brains work. The instinctual, emotional part of our brain (or the lizard brain) operates at an impossibly fast rate. Before our thinking, rational mind can blink, our lizard brain has told us what to do and we're already primed to act on it.
In other words human beings are programmed to feel before we think.
I think that a good story should reflect that hard-wired programming. After all, it's what our audience are programmed to react to. If we want our audience to really think about the rationale of what our story is trying to say, we better make sure that they are FEELING it first. This isn't to say that we should all write work that stands on the top of a building and shouts "FEELINGS! Look at all these FEELINGS I have! LISTEN TO MY FEELINGS!" But that we should tell stories that engage our emotions.
As a company, we at Paper Balloon tell original stories for young people. We don't do adaptations of existing work. There are plenty of companies out there in the world adapting work and doing it very well. We wanted to do something different. We wanted to create new stories for a new audience and in order to do that we have had to learn about how to build stories. We don't believe that we've nailed it yet. We've learnt a huge amount about it, we know alot of the theory and technique that goes into story making and we've put that theory into practice in the creation of our work... but we're not done with the journey just yet.
Having said that I thought I'd share with you three of the things that I've learnt about story building over the years... I hope you find them useful... and obviously, being a storyteller, I'm going to use a big fat metaphor to do it.
1. Find the heart of your story...
Step into the trees. Don't worry if you don't know exactly where you're going immediately. Don't let that stop you from beginning your journey. The journey through the woods will teach you everything you need to know, and you'll only find the real heart of your story when you sit down in that beautiful sun dappled glade halfway through the forest. When you do find it, that uniquely shaped piece of wood, half hidden amongst the bluebells, pick it up. Take a good long look at it, admire it. You're going to be spending a fair bit of time with it in the future... and don't forget to take it with you when you leave the glade. If you drop it somewhere along the way, make sure you pick it up. If you finally get out of the trees and realise it's fallen somewhere along the path, turn back, retrace your steps and find it. You won't regret it.
2. Learn the tools of your craft...
When you looked at that strangely shaped piece of wood amongst the bluebells you saw something there. Now that you look at it again you can see it still, an image in the unique contours, the nooks, the twists and turns of the grain. You can see it but other people need to be able to see it too. Take your whittling tools... hone and refine the edges, the corners, bring out the curves and smooth down the rough surfaces. But careful not to try and reinvent it into something that it never was. Your job is to bring that rough image into focus. To make it beautiful so that other's may see what you can see. Learning how to use the tools of your craft will not diminish the magic of creation, it can only ever enhance it.
3. Trust your audience...
That unique piece of wood that you found in the glade in the heart of the forest is finished. The images that you saw when you first looked at it all those years ago have been brought into sharp relief by careful refining and honing. The carvings are beautiful, you have hollowed out the centre, you have bored holes upon it's length at careful intervals. You have made a musical pipe. The strong structure is there, the potential is there... but it won't truly be finished until your audience blows the air of their imagination into the pipe. Trust your audience to do some of your work for you. Your job is to give them the opportunity to feel. Their job is to take that opportunity.
Everyone is a born storyteller, all we have to do is decide what story we want to tell and tell it.