What is storytelling? Simply put it is a means of communication. So if we are to discuss storytelling we must first understand what is meant by communication. The process of communication requires at least two parties: the originator and the
recipient. In addition, for communication to take place, the originator must be aware of the information or feelings he/she wishes to transmit, and the recipient must be able to determine that meaning. This is different from interpersonal communication which is a process where one party sends a message to a second party and the second party acknowledges they received and understand the message. As writers it would be great if our reader was able to immediately give us feedback As it is our only indicator of whether or not our message was received is book sales and that means a prolonged lag time.
Similarly, storytelling requires an author and an audience. And, to tell a story, one must have a story to tell. Only when an author is aware of the message he/she wishes to impart can he/she determine how to couch that message so it will be accurately received.
It should be noted that an audience is more than a passive participant in the
storytelling process. When I write the phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night,” I
have communicated a message, albeit a nebulous one. In addition to the words, another
force is at work creating meaning in the reader’s mind. The readers themselves
may have conjured up memories of the fragrance of fresh rain on dry straw, the trembling
fear of blinding explosions of lightning, or a feeling of contentment that recalls a
soft fur rug in front of a raging fire. But all I wrote was, “It was a dark and stormy
night.” I mentioned nothing in that phrase of straw or lightning or fireside memories.
In fact, once the mood is set, the less said, the more the audience can imagine. Did the
audience imagine what I, the author, had in mind? Not likely. Did I communicate?
Some. I communicated the idea of a dark and stormy night. The audience, however,
did a lot of creating on its own. Did I tell a story? Definitely not!
Grand Argument Stories
The question arises: Is telling a story better than telling a non-story? No. Stories
are not “better” than any other form of communication–just different. To see this
difference I need to define “story” so we can tell what a story is and what it is not.
Herein lies a political problem. No matter how I define “story,” there will be an
author someplace who finds his/her favorite work has been defined out, and feels it is
somehow diminished by not being classified as a story. Rather than risk the ire of
countless creative authors, I have limited my definition to a very special kind of story:
the Grand Argument Story.
As its name indicates, a Grand Argument Story presents an argument. To be Grand,
the argument must be a complete one, covering all the ways the human mind might
consider a problem and showing that only one approach is appropriate to solving it.
Obviously, this limits out a lot of creative, artistic, important works–but not out of being
stories, just out of being Grand Argument Stories. So, is a Grand Argument Story better
than any other kind? No. It is just a specific kind.
What’s In A Grand Argument Story?
A Grand Argument Story is a conceptually complete story with both an emotional and logical comprehensiveness. There are a number of qualities which determine whether a story is a Grand Argument or not. These are seen in the story’s Structure, Dynamics,
Character, Theme, Plot, and Genre.
Structure: the underlying relationship between the parts of a story describe its structure. A Grand Argument Story has a very specific structure which will be explored thoroughly in my next post.
Dynamics: the moving, growing, or changing parts of a story describe its dynamics. A Grand Argument Story has eight essential dynamics which I will explore in blog posts on the Art of Storytelling.
Character: Grand Argument Stories deal with two types of Characters: Overall Story Characters and Subjective Characters. These Characters provide the audience with the experience of moving through the story in both a passionate and an intellectual
Theme: Theme, in a Grand Argument Story, is tied to every structural and dynamic element. Theme provides the various biases and perspectives necessary to convey the story’s subject matter or meaning.
Plot: Plot in a Grand Argument Story is the sequence in which a story’s thematic structure is explored. Plot details the order in which dramatic elements must occur within that story.
Genre: Genre in a Grand Argument Story classifies the audience’s experience of a story in the broadest sense. Genre takes into account the elements of structure, dynamics, character, plot, and theme to define significant differences between various complete Grand Argument Stories.
These parts of a Grand Argument Story combine in complex relationships to create its Storyform. A Storyform is like a blueprint which describes how these parts shall relate in a particular story, regardless of how they are symbolized for the audience. It is such a
Storyform which allows such different stories as West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet, or Cyrano de Bergerac and Roxanne to share the same meaning while bearing little resemblance to each other. What these two pairs of stories share is virtually the same
The Free-form Author
While some authors write specifically to make an argument to an audience, many others write because they want to follow their personal muse. Sometimes writing is a catharsis, or an exploration of self. Sometimes authoring is a sharing of experiences, fragmented images, or just of a point of view. Sometimes authoring is marking a path for an audience to follow, or perhaps just presenting emotional resources the audience can construct into its own vision. Interactive communications question the validity of a linear story itself, and justifiably so. There are many ways to communicate, and each has just as much value as the next depending upon how one wishes to affect one’s audience. Sometimes, however, we just want to tell a story and entertain our audience.
In a series of blog posts I will discuss each of the elements listed above.