Sleepy Thoughts, with Dragons.

This post was going to be about something else. I’m quite certain that it would’ve been clever, even erudite, and full of multi-syllabic dazzle and pontification–you know, all the usual crap.

Then I stayed up all night forcing Word to play nice with Createspace. Now my brain is a drippy mass of sleep-deprived mush. Mush is seldom brilliant. If ever you spot mush that is brilliant, start worrying about radiation or alien invasions. Or dragons. Dragons are always leaving shiny things lying around.  They also flash-fry their food with their breath.

Anyway.
I’ve told stories in my sleep, so I should be able to accomplish blog while sleepy. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about storytelling and language and cultural awareness lately, and it’s time to lay some of those thinks down in print. No worries, I promise to spread it out over more than one post. Today, it’s all about stories.
Firstly:
A story is a thing.  That was a gobsmacker of a realization for me.  Think about cave paintings. Our ancestors left behind leather clothes, flint arrowheads, clay pots…and stories on the walls. Even now, thousands of years later, you can look from image to image and see  the stories that were shared.
That result is as real as any physical object. The medium may shape the message, the message may lose meaning over time the way leather rots and pots crumble, but that doesn’t change its essential nature. A story is a thing that humans make.
Secondly:
Writing is not a thing. It’s an action verb. I write, you write, they write. Like most activities, mastery requires practice and evaluation, failure, repetition and adaptation. It is a complex action, but at heart it is no more than a specific form of the verb communicate..  It’s one of the most modern forms, too. When people talk about writing as a noun, they’re really talking about the story, or the facts listed, or the information imparted. not the act. This is an important distinction.
Thirdly:
Storytelling isn’t a singular action verb. It’s a big box of presentation tools and narrative vocabulary festooned with personal baggage and wrapped in cultural filters.  It is a creation element. Whether you speak, sing, play or dance a story, you’re telling it. Each art form has its own traditions, tools and phrases, but they all share one trait: sharing. Storytelling is the whole series of actions that result in building a narrative from nothing and then making it real for another human being.
It’s magic. It’s a superpower.

You can be a genius storyteller and a lousy writer. You can be a lousy storyteller and a skilled writer. No other form of storytelling is as hypocritical, rigid, and contradictory as writing
Imagine a choreographer refusing to use a pas de quatre in a new ballet piece because it’s in Swan Lake and gets “overused.” Imagine a blues guitarist shunning a riff because it’s “cliched.” Nope.

Dance has a vocabulary and a set of accepted forms and traditions. So does every musical style. (No, I am not saying that all dances, songs, symphonies or paintings are telling stories. Work with me. It’s an analogy.) When there are disagreements between tradition and innovation, a new style gains acceptance or fades away on its own merits. (Disco, I’m looking at you.)

Why doesn’t this happen in the literary world?  TVTropes.com is a treasure trove of information on storytelling themes, plots, characters, and yes, tropes. It’s an incredible writing resource, an easy place to lose hours in “research,” but most importantly, it does not mock its  own content. It presents material with an eager enthusiasm for story.

Creation builds on the rotting bones and rich compost of past creations. Break a rule here, play with a trite phrase there, and rip off the ideas that tickle your fancy.  This is how new happens, This is how great stories are born.  The literature community has a bad habit of eating its young.

 Writing is relatively new to the arena of storytelling. The printing press has only been around 600 years more or less. The word processor, which gives people who don’t think sequentially the priceless tool of cut & paste, has been readily available for less than 30. The internet, with its capacity to connect writer and reader, is still practically in its infancy.

Poor novels. I think of them as the stodgy oldest son of the modern storytelling family. No sooner had written narrative begun to gel into stage and page, poem and prose, then the cute baby siblings of film-making and graphic narrative came along. Now everyone coos and fusses over them. Books are dying, the pundits say. People don’t have the time or the attention spans to handle extended reading.

Bah. The youngsters are blowing away long-form literature in popularity because they’re nimble and stylish and inclusive, not because they’re “visual” or because people stopped being smart, or even because internet.

TV and comics are cliched. Stereotyped. Hackneyed. Fun. The newest generation of adults grew up reading. They’re starved for serious writing, but most of them have no interest in picking up a traditional novel. They were taught that reading novels meant that they had to think hard and study hard. 

We need to let reading be fun for people. That’s all I’m saying.

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