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Abstract Thoughts has been updated with The Storyteller's Job - in which I wax poetic about the concepts realized from watching The Inside Man.

February 13, 2007
The Storyteller's Job
The life of a storyteller is both exciting and not. I don't know how exciting it is for anyone else to frequently hear "I wrote 2000 decent words today." To me, it is my life and I love it. I love the fact that I have this opportunity to write every single day. To do research. To bounce ideas off of people. To have my mind changed. To have my heart broken.

I recently had my heart broken with a rejection from a prospective agent. But, it was a good rejection. It was personal, thoughtful and encouraging. I like that even though I still cried when I read the rejection. Later, I had time to thank my lucky stars that I had this opportunity to be rejected. I would have preferred an acceptance but the agent had good reasons for not accepting the manuscript - the biggest one being hat he doesn't work with Sci-fi much. I thought he did. That was my mistake. Better research in the future.

Still, I'm writing. I'm submitting my work around and being published. My life and job is to be a storyteller. I do this in many ways - The Edge of Propinquity, Freaky Friday Fiction, Novel #1 (up to 32,000 words now), my fiction short stories and my freelance work. I am honestly content with life right now and not that many people can say that.

There are two things I find myself doing now that my focus is on telling stories: Looking at the craft of writing and looking at the craft of story planning/plotting/telling/unfolding.

I am rereading one of my favorite Sci-Fi space opera series: the Matador series by Steve Perry. Actually, that particular series is just three books. There are eight books involving the universe that trilogy is in. I am rereading them all. Technically, I think they are supposed to be Men's Adventure novels. I don't care if they are. I love them

However, now that I'm rereading them, I find myself pausing to look at the technical aspects of Perry's writing style and the way he lets the story unfold while he does the necessary world building. He writes just enough to let you know what's going on in the context of the story but no more. There is a lot of telling instead of showing but it still works. Also, there are a lot of assumptions that the reader will just "get it." I like that. I look at how he does what he does - when I don't forget about all that stuff and get lost in the story. Yes, for me, it is that good of a story.

The second thing - the craft of storytelling itself - came up tonight. I watched a movie called The Inside Man with Denzel Washington, Clive Own and Jodie Foster. The acting was excellent and the story was just about perfect in its telling, plotting and unfolding. However, I hated the movie. While I was watching it, I hated every character on screen, figured out 95% of the plot as it went along and was bored.

But, and this is a big but, in retrospect, this movie was almost flawless in its telling. The more I think about that, the more I'm impressed with it. All of the clues were there for the audience; for those with an eye for detail.

The fact that I hated the story but am impressed with the storytelling seems paradoxical to me. It reminds me of one of my favorite authors, Stephen Donaldson, and him having the dubious honor of writing a book where I loved the writing and HATED the story. So much so that I will not read any of the other eight books involving that particular universe.

It makes me think about the job of a storyteller. I disliked The Inside Man because I had no sympathy for any of the characters in the movie. None. I disliked Lord Foul's Bane because I absolutely loathed the main character. These two subjective opinions bring to light something I have always considered important in storytelling: Emotional investment in the story and characters by the reader/viewer.

While no story or character can be all things to all people, it is part of a storyteller's job to tell a story and portray some of its characters in such a way that those experiencing the story for the first time become emotionally invested. In other words, that they care about the character(s) and the story itself. It is important for them to know what happens.

This is one of my main goals when I tell a story - do I care what is happening? Does it matter to me (as the author) if Sebastian lives or dies? If the answer is "no" and Sebastian is a main character, I have done my job wrong. If I don't care, how can I expect anyone else to care?

I will be thinking about this for a few weeks to come because, while I have always wanted my readers to be emotionally invested in my stories, I never had real reason why so obviously displayed for me before: It doesn't matter how good of a story it is or how well it is told if no one cares what happens to the characters or how it turns out in the end.

Tarot Card for the Day: The Devil


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 13th, 2007 08:58 pm (UTC)
Glad I could help ;)
Feb. 13th, 2007 09:24 pm (UTC)
Me too!
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 13th, 2007 09:12 pm (UTC)
Man, I thought I Heart Huckabees was the most boring film ever. The concept was cute, I suppose, but not enough to keep me up to see the end.
Feb. 13th, 2007 10:39 pm (UTC)
Just to throw a wrench in this, I like and sympathize with Arthur Dent -- he acts like all of us actually would in his sitaution. I saw Shaun of the Dead twice, and consider I Heart Huckabees to be among my favorite films/one of the smartest comedies I've ever seen. All three were hits, yet plenty of people (like you guys) didn't like them. How can an author know if his characters are broadly appealing or will only appeal to a subset of the audience? Here's a guideline: there are characters you like because of their strengths and characters you like despite (or even because of) their weaknesses. And frankly some people only like the first kind. According to agent and author Donald Maas, writers need to keep that in mind when trying to write a "breakout hit." If you have a character with a lot of weaknesses and vices, someone you like a lot but aren't sure a broader audience will warm to, give him or her a major strength, preferably "forgiveness" or "self sacrifice." Because that's something we can all appreciate.
Feb. 13th, 2007 09:07 pm (UTC)
Your ideas about what make a story work are exactly what I tried to convey in my review about Hal Duncan's Vellum earlier today (which is over on my other site). Stylistically - wow! Exciting stuff going on there - but I didn't care enough about the characters and couldn't tell enough about what was going on to feel that real emotional investment in the story.

Interesting that we should happen upon the same "revelation" at the same time!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )