Posts Tagged ‘storytelling’

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Philosophy Tuesday

October 1, 2019

Let’s dive deeper into the Storytelling post from Sunday, for there’s a lot of good stuff to explore that goes way beyond the stories we find on the printed page, stage, screen, or even those shared around the campfire.  We can take the concept and begin to examine the ever-present stories and narrators that surround us every day, including the most important – the ones in our head.

Simply put, many of the things around us that we take for granted open up and take on whole new meanings when we look at the framework that surround them rather than the thing itself.

This is especially potent to dovetail it with the conversation about systems and on the notion of the path(s) of least resistance.  These systems, be they writ large or the very personal, are mostly never derived in a vacuum; instead they come about, evolve, and are kept in place by notions and narrations.  So too is the same that keeps them in place, reliably producing the same outcome over and over again, even and especially when that outcome is, to one degree or another, deleterious.

This is also a great concept to fortify against false dichotomies.  “It can only be this or this” is not only missing the vast possibilities of both our capacity but also the variations of the universe, but it is also weaponizing a tightly woven narrative that forcibly limits the conditions as to make a binary outcome inevitable.

I’ve long been fond of noting, “We talk about the economy like it’s gravity.”  That is, we talk about it like it is a, or maybe the, fundamental physical force in the universe over which we have no choice but to do its bidding.  Except, when look through a telescope at the cosmos, or when we look through a microscope at the micros, we find no evidence of “the economy” shaping things.  It is the narrative that creates the container we’re in and that turns it into “This is the way it goes; this is the way it has to go.”

As ever, little is truly inherent.  Contexts, however, can make it seem like so.  By bringing mindfulness, inquisitiveness, and a little literary wonder we can read beyond the lines to see the author’s hand at work, freeing us to see things more broadly and more clearly.  Whether in determining who we know ourselves to be as an individual, or who we know ourselves to be as a society, or as a species, the constraints melt away and we’re open, ready to write our more perfect future.*

 

* Which, of course, in turn we can, at a later time, revisit and see the additional “author’s hands” that were perhaps invisible to us at the time, letting us once again go beyond to write an even more perfect future… and on, and on, and so on.

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Storytelling Sunday

September 29, 2019

“It’s what the story required.”  “It’s what the character had to do.”  “It’s the only way it could have gone.”  “It needed to happen.”

If you’re experiences are like mine then you are likely familiar with these types of answers from authors/creators when you ask them about elements in their stories, be it about events, outcomes, or, most often, what the story is about or is trying to say.  I’ve asked numerous authors on numerous occasions these types of questions, and responses in this vein, have always puzzled me.

Because… aren’t you the author?  How is it that it must go his way?  That this is the only way?

As the author, you’re the creator of everything!  From the most basic premise to the context in which things unfurl to the impetus that starts the action to the characters that inhabit the story, and so forth.  It’s all invented.  Tweak one little thing and everything beyond cascades and unfurls in a whole other way (or ways).

Corey Doctorow recently wrote an article about this, and regardless of whether one fully likes where he takes it or the examples he gives the main useful takeaway for me remains shining the spotlight on those seemingly inviolable constraints that force a story down a particular path to a particular ending to see that they are inherently part of the creation.  There is no “must” there.  It’s all (a) setup.

Now, every story contains a series of constraints and contrivances.  I’m not arguing against that.  (Though, and this is in a completely different vein than our main conversation here, but if your story uses a whole flock of vast contrivances and coincidences to move things along then I humbly suggest your story still needs a lot of work.)  What irks me about this type of response is not the mundane or pure logic about things, but rather that the author most likely has made these choices to set up the “inevitable” for a reason, and even if those reasons are hidden from their view by not answering the question they are not taking, or willing to take, ownership of the reasons.

Out of that I begin to wonder if they are trying to hide behind the supposed “objectivity” of things.  That is, they know what their story is conveying or is trying to say, but they are not willing to proudly stand behind it to hold aloft the concepts and explain why they set things up that way (and, by extension, declare what they’re trying to say).

Natch, it is also possible that they don’t know or didn’t think about it, in which case, fine, but still I’d invite that the better answer is “Huh, I don’t know!  That’s interesting, let’s talk about it and see what comes up…”

This is starting to sound a bit rant-y, so let me wrangle things back to say what I myself am trying to create here:  an invitation to look at and engage with your work more fully and recognize there is no inevitable, and to not hide behind feigned neutrality and pure calculus.  If your story conjures something up and you are asked about it, see if it was your intention.  If so, stand behind it and say what your story is saying.  If not, how fascinating!  And use that to further develop your craft.

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Storytelling Sunday

September 15, 2019

“…our relationships with works of art, particularly those that have a massive impact on us, changes as time goes on.  The things that inspire you at 16 probably won’t inspire you or at least in the same way at 26 or 36 or any age past that.  And even if something has soured in your mind, mocking it wholesale seems more a sign that you still need it, and less like you recognize its flaws while appreciating the role it played in your life.”

— Andrew Saladino

I really like what Andrew creates in his video essay on outgrowing movies (and outgrowing art in general).  The whole trope/idea/action of “growing up = trashing what you liked before” is unfortunate.  Perhaps it is a misunderstanding of the phrase “you must leave things behind”?  Either way, outgrow is a much healthier word:  “I used to like that and it used to hold meaning for me.  Now, it doesn’t in quite the same way.  While it may not be perfect as I remembered it, it still shaped who I am, and I can revel in my excitement for it back then.  I can let it lie in the middle ground and go forth boldly.”

And for those times we revisit something and it is everything that we remember it to be — and sometimes revealing itself to be even more meaningful now?  Then its time to dance on the rooftops in unbridled excitement!

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Wonder Wednesday

August 28, 2019

Seemingly random Tintin artwork in the public/playground/community area under an apartment building!  Very cool.

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Everything Thursday: The Aesthetics of Genre

June 20, 2019

“I think it is very important to be able to read media with a critical eye. To parse it in terms of what it is saying, both on its face, and in how it uses the language of its medium (film, TTRPG, whatever) to deliver its ideas. To make its statement.

Genre is not simply a set of aesthetics, full stop. It is aesthetics with a direction, an impetus.

Lots of folks like to forget the reason behind the aesthetic choices, and just sort of, eat and regurgitate them unthinkingly.”

Commuting Crow [Emphasis Mine]

I came across this and I like it a lot, and want to pass it forward for it is very important in storytelling, in gaming, and even in architecture.

The look and feel (ie aesthetics) of any genre is born from a philosophical place.  It was through the examination and exploration of certain ideas, theses, and ideologies, whether that be in support of them (we are interested in this  and think this is a good way to go, let’s explore and invent down that road), in question of them (we see this as a possible way things could go, let’s explore and see what the outcome(s) might be), or in opposition or critique of them (this is something we see happening, and think it is not productive, let’s explore and illustrate the harm).  Genre is more than the style of the world, it is about world building, and all of the aspects of world building.  The way society operates (or doesn’t), the way people think (or don’t), the prevailing truths (or untruths), the direction and inflections of humanity.  It is from there, from that baseline world building from which the aesthetics emerge and are developed into their final form.

So when you use the imagery and aesthetics of the genre as just a stylistic choice, you aren’t operating in the genre.  Your work is not of the genre.  It’s something else in different clothing.*

The same holds true in architecture.  The organization of the Beaux-Arts building, the hyper-detailed nature of the Baroque period, the classical orders, the bold planes of modernism, they all emerged out of philosophies about living (in all senses of that word).  There were values and convictions and ideas and ideologies beneath it all, and it was the exploration into form of all of those that informed and created the style, including how the building is laid out, how one approaches the building, how one travels from room to room, how the façade is proportioned, how and where ornamentation, etc.

So when you use the architectural pieces and aesthetics (the architectural language) of a ‘style’ (or genre) as just a stylistic choice, you aren’t operating in the true nature of the style.  Your work is not of the style.  It is something else in different clothing.

In this way, Using the words  “architectural style” to describe how a building looks turns out to be a misnomer.**

To reiterate, genres (and architectural ‘styles’***) are born of a specific context, in time and space and thought and vision.  From there emerges a look.  If you want your story, your game, or your work to be truthfully of that genre, it needs to engage with that context (again, whether it is to follow, to re-examine, to tweak, to refute, whatever, but it must engage with it), not just the look of it.

It is from there that richness arises and that great works emerge.

 

* Which BTW is fine… there’s some fun in playing around only with style.  Just be honest about it.

** It is also where many more recent buildings fall flat or feel terrible, because they’re importing architectural languages in a copy/paste mode without any thought or understanding of all the ideology and knowledge that underpinned the ‘style’ and so having little design sense poured into them.  Confusing architecture as just the “fancy looking bits” leaves behind the most important aspects that make up what architecture actually is.

*** We really need a better word.  Ok.  This is my game now, to find or come up with a new word for this.

 

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Wonder Wednesday

June 5, 2019

In a lot of ways, it seems very silly and unassuming.  After all, it’s ‘just’ a series of marble trials.  Yet done with such rigour, seriousness, and with completely earnest commentary played totally straight that it is tough not to get sucked in… and even root for your favourite team/country.  Totally fun to watch, and impressive to think of all the work behind the scenes to set it up and have it be so compelling.  Here’s the first event of this year’s competition to get you started!

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Philosophy Tuesday

May 28, 2019

I have not watched any of the Game of Thrones*, but it has been pretty darn inescapable for the past few weeks as the final season wound towards its finale. And so it was that across my path came this article at Scientific American that piqued my interest, for it delved into realms both rich on a storytelling level but even more so in the philosophical realm. Besides a treatise on the path of the final episodes there’s a great exploration that ties very nicely into the concept and notions of the Path of Least Resistance as well as Systems.

Give it a read. There’s a lot of good stuff in there and where I begin to mine it for insights is here: If we’re not well versed in writing, or even consuming, stories that flow from a sociological level/view verses the individual/psychological level/view, then we’ll likewise not be well versed in seeing how much we all are swept away by the sociological waters we swim in. It therefore becomes more difficult to see the systems and shared identities that shape our views, reactions, and even (T)ruths:

“In sociological storytelling, the characters have personal stories and agency, of course, but those are also greatly shaped by institutions and events around them. The incentives for characters’ behavior come noticeably from these external forces, too, and even strongly influence their inner life.

People then fit their internal narrative to align with their incentives, justifying and rationalizing their behavior along the way. (Thus the famous Upton Sinclair quip: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”)”

It can be tough to swim against a current. It certainly takes effort, especially when it confronts something we’ve made a part of our identity. And so once again we’re pointing towards the path of least resistance. Society, systems, structures are all there, flowing. It becomes easiest to simply go with the flow, no matter whether the outcome is a good or deleterious one, whether for ourselves, others, or the world as a whole.

Even when it is completely against our own self-interest.**

But the effort is worth it. When the already automatic systems are nudging us already almost certain futures that are not working as we’d like them to, it’s most fruitful when we aim to alter the systems rather than exclusively aiming to alter individual(s). When we can divert the flow towards great outcomes, then great outcomes become easy:

“But if we can better understand how and why characters make their choices, we can also think about how to structure our world that encourages better choices for everyone. The alternative is an often futile appeal to the better angels of our nature. It’s not that they don’t exist, but they exist along with baser and lesser motives. The question isn’t to identify the few angels but to make it easier for everyone to make the choices that, collectively, would lead us all to a better place.”

Through a broadening of storytelling to include sociological viewpoints, we can better gain that understanding. And while such stories may not be “out there” yet in great quantities (as this season of GoT apparently showed), we can always practice that storytelling in our own lives with that most important narrator – the one in our head. With mindfulness we can guide our inner commenter to encompass both the psychological and the sociological, gaining broader perspectives from which we can choose, be, and act in service of creating the society we truly want.

 

* As much of a surprise as that might be to many of you…

** And against that which fills our being with fulfillment and satisfaction and is a true self-expression of our central self and who we want to be.