I don’t think you can teach what makes a storyteller a storyteller. Not that it’s some extra special innate talent that only a chosen few possess. It’s not. All it is – I think - is a deep want or need to communicate paired with the complete lack of skill for doing so by the normal means. You know, talking to people. Talking to them about what’s actually on your mind.
I love talking to people. I love in it big groups, one on one, whatever. I do not like talking to them about deeply personal, serious matters. Mostly because I don’t wanna bore anyone.
So I take everything I feel I have to say and make a story out of it and hope that people will pick up on what I’m really doing.
Also pay me for it.
Which is the sweetest revenge isn’t it? (When did this become about revenge?)
Whether or not I’m successful in any of this varies a lot.
So I think you kind of have to have this sort of makeup to be a storyteller; at least that’s what makes me one. Which makes me always wary of writing tips or lessons when they talk about making a storyteller out of everyone. I think anyone can tell a story but whether it’ll be worth a damn, well, I think it has to mean something to the person making it. And a story has to be the best or maybe the only way they can express themselves.
All of this means I have no idea how to make you need to tell a story. Maybe you don’t need to and that’s a good thing. If you can say your say without resorting to dressing it all up with compelling characters, a plot that hangs right and some overarching theme about the whackadoo state of the human condition; right on. More power to you and yours.
Sincerely, that’s great. I think it’s swell that works for you.
But here’s what works for me.
If you are like me, a storyteller, maybe some of this will work for you. Or at least get you to laugh at how ass backwards my methods are.
1. Walk Around Talking to Yourself (Especially While Growing Up)
My number one pastime growing up in parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio and most of all glorious Tucson Arizona was walking around. Just fucking walking. No real destination, no companions, just me and my feet and my head filled with voices. And sights. And stories. I’d walk around playing and acting them all out. Taking turns being the heroes I’d make up as well as the villains and everyone else in between. A lot of kids did this, we were 6 and 7 years old. It’s what we did. But I was also a little immature for my age. I was smart for it too but maturity and intelligence don’t necessarily go hand in hand.
I also grew up in the middle of nowhere so I had to find ways to entertain myself. On top of that there were always reasons for me not to want to be home. So I’d escape into my brain. And since I was a little immature like I said before - or maybe just stubborn or unconcerned with looking foolish - when the other kids slowly grew out of their make believe worlds mine just kept on growing. Getting bigger, more complicated. The stories more and more like the real life that I was living.
So into my teens and beyond, even now; I like to walk around inhabiting my own world. I admit as I’ve gotten older (35 as of now) I act out the stories a little less now. But when no one is around I still go full on. It gives me joy. It’s playing. I also still air guitar in public when a really sweet lick comes in over my headphones; and when the coast is clear and I’m alone I sing along loud so I can hear myself over the music. I even grip an imaginary mic if the spirit really moves me. All of this is good for storytelling – and for the amusement or horror of onlookers - for a lot of reasons.
One, if you’re actual playing out a scene you’re working on, well that means you’re actually saying the preposterous shit you’ve written as dialogue. Which means you can actually hear how clunky or maybe (rarely) how surprisingly mellifluous it sounds when an actual human being says it.
Two, walking around gets you motivated. When you’re creating something it can make the gears inside your skull start churning and get you excited about what you’re working on. And if you’ve hit a wall sometimes walking around and acting out some scenes in your head gets you distracted by the things you’re seeing outside. Distraction can be good sometimes for working out a story because if you leave your brain alone sometimes it’ll fix your problems for you. Like it’s fucking supposed to, goddamn lazy brains.
Three, its’s fun. It really is. I’m a firm believer that people don’t play enough. That we don’t let ourselves play. Life is hard, I don’t need to tell you that. Writing a book can be hard too. You might as well enjoy both as much as you can.
2. Make Yourself a Mental Trailer
When I’m first starting to work up a new idea for a story sometimes it comes piecemeal, sometimes it comes in one big flood but eventually, however I get around to it, I start dreaming up a sort of movie trailer in my mind of what I want this story to be. A lot of the time when I’m walking around playing things through my head, acting them out, I’m not going through the story in a linear fashion; I’m working through a sizzle reel in my brain. All the big moments, one will lead to another, like a song, ups and downs, quiet and loud, verses and choruses; I’ll march around with this in my head and get really geared up about what I want this story to be. And like anything with storytelling, the trailer is not fixed. Anything and everything can change. Your mental trailer is just scaffolding so don’t get too attached to it. Besides, sometimes trailers show stuff that ends up on the cutting room floor anyways. Of course you don’t wanna fuck up and cut that really good shot that everyone is anticipating when they sit down and watch the finished movie (Twister truck tire I will never forgive you). So don’t. Remember what you liked.
3. Be Unconcerned with Looking Foolish
I’m talking about early on in the process still, eventually yeah, get some outside, trusted advice and make sure you didn’t shit the sleeping bag before the Jason Voorhees that is internet criticism picks you up in said sleeping bag and beats the actual shit out of you against a tree. Yeah, not a pretty sight. But before all that, be fearless. Write from your gut. Take chances. Fail. Fuck up. Figure things out. Get over your fear of looking like an imposter, an idiot or uneducated and ask somebody what you want to know. Because each of us is a bit of all three of those things depending on the subject.
I learn more all the time and I think I learn things faster now just because I’m more comfortable asking others who know more than me. Whether it’s asking an artist or writer whom I’ve become friendly with about their technique or some technical aspect of what they do or a certain tool they’ve used to achieve something; or even if it’s simply watching tutorial videos to learn how to use some new software or to watch a creator do their thing. I have questions so I use all my resources to find answers. Part of the reason I was so resistant for this for years was the feeling of pride I have at being self-taught. Don’t get me wrong, self-reliance is a great value. With it I taught myself how to draw, how to play guitar, how to write. But while this was great for my ego and sometimes lead to me developing a distinctive style it also made me slow to pick up on a lot of basics in all those fields. So now I reach out to people if I’m really hitting a wall. Again, I must stress, reach out to other creators who you are actually chummy with. Don’t bother an artist or creator who you don’t actually know or talk to (even in some online capacity) not because creators are inherent dicks who can’t be bothered (though we are) but because you’re asking for a stranger’s time and expertise and you might not be the only person in the world who’s bothering them for all their secrets. Like it’s no big deal to offer a glass of water to a stranger at your door once, right? But if there’s a stranger at your door asking for water every hour, and they were also wondering if maybe you want to see the glass of water they made, and maybe you could tell them how it tastes and if they’ve poured it wrong; and what do you think of this cup? A mug, they should have totally used a mug, right? …. Yeah, that’s not what anyone would want.
Do make friends with other creators in whatever field you’re into. Actual friends. And not just for networking motives either. Do it because they’ll be the only ones who you can gripe to about how your imaginary people aren’t behaving properly despite being your own creations and actually (potentially) understanding what you’re talking about and why it’s so important to you
4. Be More Than a Storyteller
Which brings me to my last bit, remember at the top when I said being a storyteller meant being blessed with a lot to say and no better way to say it? Sounds like a lonely way to go about things, right? Yeah, it can be. If you wanna be all Mall Goth about it and sequester yourself from everyone because you’re such a tortured boring fucking hack that is. So don’t be. Be a storyteller who talks to other storytellers, even if it’s just small talk. Blathering about other books you like, or your dogs or the interesting things you can do with peanut butter and chili. Chances are maybe they’re like you; a storyteller who doesn’t really like to get into too serious of terrain with conversation. Great, that means you’ll be on equally footing. Sometimes what we're talking about isn’t as important as the fact that we talk about something. That we reach out and make some sort of connection.
Talk to other folks too. Try and make some goddamn friends, people. There’s plenty of less attractive but more accomplished writers than me who have already talked about the need for writers and the like to crawl away from their caves and remember to have a life. But let me spell it out (because it took me a long time to read the message clearly myself) : you’re here to live life not just write about it. Without real experience your life is empty and your stories meaningless. So yeah, if life being empty isn’t enough of a kick in the pants for you, your art will suffer too.
So do more than just tell stories. Don’t just walk around talking to yourself and reciting your killer bad guy soliloquy as mothers clutch their awestruck children close to their chests while you walk by. If you need convincing, consider that all our memories are imperfect and merely a story we continually tell ourselves over and over again. How interesting is your story? How compelling is it now? Would you read you?
Make a trailer, see what you want your story to be then walk around and act it out. There’s nothing to feel foolish about, everyone else is doing the exact same thing.