Some Thoughts on Storytelling

I found this great article, “What Makes a Really Good Story?” by Ted Albrighton, that looks at storytelling through the lens of commercial use.  You don’t often think about commercials as “stories” because, in theory, you know they’re trying to sell you something, not to entertain you.  Stories come with this connotation that they are how we “waste time” and check out of reality.  We don’t often think of them as valid forms of communication and a tool set to be relied on; if we did, getting an English degree wouldn’t have resulted in my hair-dresser telling me I wasted my money and should have gone for a business degree like she did.  Storytelling is a business, it has a function, people can profit from it if that is their goal in life.  Storytelling has been around as long as mankind; it wouldn’t have survived that long if it didn’t have a purpose. The marketing world is tapping into that.  So, buyer beware, they’re looking to lure you in with stories. And it will work, hook, line and sinker.

The one thing I dislike about this article is the very narrow focus they have on what constitutes a story. A story is anything that gives you something to follow to a conclusion. One of the best examples of this that I’ve ever heard is “I threw the ball. It bounced. You caught it.”  That has a beginning, middle and end.  It evokes engaging images. It has characters. It is the movement of information from one source to another. Nine words made a story. Six words can tell just as effective a story; I’m sure you’ve heard of “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” largely attributed to Hemingway. Did I just sell sports equipment or baby shoes? No. But they were stories. So my caution here is to not get caught up on formulas of what works or what defines a story, because there are an endless variety of ways to craft a story. The only one that’s “the right way to do it” is the one that eventually gives you a product you’re satisfied with.

The article has this really useful infographic that breaks down traditional storytelling in an easy to follow fashion, but with the focus being instead on what will sell.

Image copyright ABC Copywriting.  See the link!
Image copyright ABC Copywriting. See the link!

If you’re in advertising, this is useful.  If you’re looking to be published, this is also really useful! Publishing is sales, because people have to buy the work you publish. So in that sense, the graphic gives you some “insider” perspective on what’s most important and why.  In terms of just a writer, sitting down to put words on the page and get their story drawn out of their brain in the most logical, understandable way, this is still useful because it is relying on the recognized elements of a story. The article goes into more depth on them, but is focused on the marketing perspective to the point of distraction.

Look through it, add your own, come up with your own “writing rules” to live by.  There is no such thing as a “proper” story.  It’s yours, so tell it how you wish!

 

 

Caffeinated Reviews – Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

This weekend, I went on a Percy Jackson binge.  After watching Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, I dragged my friend to see Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.  I didn’t like the writing in the books well enough to read past the first installment, but I do like the movies. The books are “young adult” and written for the average 10 to 14 year old reader, while the movies are enjoyable for the actual “adult” demographic. There were maybe two kids in the theatre I saw it in, (I went to an early Sunday morning showing) and a good fifteen to twenty adults aged 20 through 50.

So what’s it about? When Half-Blood Camp is attacked and endangered, Percy must overcome his own misgivings – and an old enemy – in order to find the mythic Golden Fleece capable of restoring the camp’s protections. There’s adventure, fight scenes, a smattering of drama, and a good wash of humor to keep the movie entertaining. I left the theatre with that confidence that comes from $8 well-spent on a 1.5 hour reality check-out. (I call it the movie-buzz.)

Going a little more in depth at it – without spoiling anything – I give good marks across the board. I liked the continuity it maintained from the first movie. It felt like the same world, even though the actors were all older and the characters were dealing with different problems in their teenaged lives. I thought they showed age-appropriate dialogue and characterization, too; Teenagers sounded like savvy teenagers and showed growth from the first movie.

The weak spots were easily overlooked with an eye roll but they were there. (And here thar be spoilers. ) Tyson was an awkward thread. From his parentage to Anna-Beth’s reaction to him, it felt shoehorned for awkard morale-drama and played out a bit over-done.  Percy was feeling down and out and needed another quest to cheer him up. The quest was enough to work with. But with the addition of Tyson to the quest, they lay on the “it could be worse, you could have been born a freak!” just a little thick. One of the reasons I like this series is the empowerment it brings to kids who didn’t grow up playing football and hanging out with the cool kids, and bringing in a character that looks funny and thinks slow to be mocked and feared by Percy’s crowd – even temporarily – messes with that.  Tyson had to hide who he was to fit in which works against message for the series. Worse, the acting in those scenes just didn’t work as well as the rest of the movie.

The story also still has an odd timeline in regards to locations, relying on a bit of magic-wand waving over issues of transportation, same as in the first movie.  The kids crossed the eastern coastline in good time, but I’m not sure how they managed it.Everything else is detailed and researched, but they couldn’t address how the heroes got around on their quest while working under a deadline? Small details like this distract me from the story!

My only other nit-picky observation is that it was possibly a little heavy on the external monologue – hello Percy Hamlet, nice to meet you – and family drama, but considering it is centered around demigods with daddy-issues that comes with the territory.

The movie made good use of location and CGI combos. Pretty things to look at and weird things to ewww at, both used to drag the viewer into Percy’s world. I particularly liked the sci-fi fandom nods in casting and scripting, but you can go on that scavenger hunt yourself. (And if they weren’t intentional, they left in some very clever ad lib choices.) I also loved the score, and the original music at the end was something I hadn’t seen done in awhile and appreciated for that. I’m not that old, really, but I get pretty nostalgic about movies over the strangest things. Songs written for movies is one of these things apparently.

All in all, I would (and do) recommend this movie if it falls in your genre. Go to have fun and you will more than likely leave with the mission accomplished.

Reviews

It has been decided – by me, of course, because I own this particular digital neighborhood – that I shall wander into the over-heated world of reviews. Book and movie reviews. Why would I do this? What gives me the right to opinionate on someone else’s hard work? I’m not published, after all, I have never accomplished what they have, so why should I begrudge their work?

The answer is simple. I’m a reader. A viewer. The audience.  If it works for me, if I like their work, then I can write a review to share that. If there are parts that don’t work for me, I can politely and thoughtfully explain what those were. Should the writers ever stumble on these web-documented thoughts, hopefully my point of view will be helpful rather than offensive.  Feedback is a writer’s friend and if they have gotten this far in their career that I would be reading their work off the shelves of the local bookstores, they have developed pretty thick skin. In the meantime, it goes toward my own stockpile of “things not to do” when I find those things that don’t benefit my experience of the story.

However. If I’ve bothered to read the book/watch the movie (or both) and think about it enough to write a review, there are very good odds that I don’t have anything scandalous to say about it. It is far more likely that I would be impressed and secretly wishing I could buy the author a cup of coffee and pick their brain for their success secrets. Maybe use the cuppa as a distraction to steal their writing pens.

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