Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Storyteller's Promise

It seems to me that every story comes with a promise. This promise is threefold. First, the promise is to conclude the story. Second, the promise is to balance the equation. Third, the promise is that the ending is worth the time spent listening. This is a sort of unwritten law which governs our reading, listening, and viewing experiences—a natural law, perhaps.

The very act of beginning to tell a story necessitates its ending. There is no purpose to a story that goes nowhere. A story's setup can be as simple as "I was driving on the freeway the other day..." or as complicated as building the world of Middle Earth. However, my driving excursions are of no interest to you, nor are the customs of hobbits, without an ending. If I tell you: I saw a wheel come off someone's Jeep in traffic, then you have a story. (That really happened, by the way!)

Of course, that's only the beginning. I have (at least mildly) piqued your interest. It is now my responsibility to "balance the equation." By this, I mean the act of satisfying the audience's curiosity. You might be wondering where the wheel finally stopped, or how it came off in the first place. I've given you the evidence in a [small] mystery, but not how the pieces fit: The wheel left its owner and bounced down my lane for about a half-a-mile, slowing traffic to a crawl.

Ultimately, you want to know what the point is. Depending on your temperament, or personality type, your preference may be for a long and detailed story or a short and to-the-point story. Nevertheless, you want the point: The wheel continued up an exit ramp, where my wife suggested I put on my flashers and stop the car. She then jumped out of the car and chased the wheel off the road. So what is the point?

First, I wanted to share a diversion from the routine. The reason you listened (or read) is because it opens fresh channels in your mind, which lead to possibilities in thinking and action. The story also demonstrated what I believe was the right thing to do under the circumstances. We were the "jerks" that held up traffic, but we stopped the traffic for safety reasons. We led by stopping.

A storyteller is temporarily responsible for the audience's perception of reality. He has the opportunity to influence them in a positive or negative direction. But if he lacks an understanding of the promise he is making in the telling, then he is likely to have a following with nowhere to lead.

Nothing will kill a storyteller's reputation faster.
FEATURED MEDIA: The Fellowship of the Ring - The Hobbit is the story of Bilbo Baggins' journey to the Lonely Mountain, during which he finds the One Ring. In Fellowship, Bilbo is completing his memoirs, but he leaves the last pages for Frodo to finish. Frodo's story is of a promise made to destroy the One Ring, and the ultimate fulfillment of that promise.

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