Books Craft General Writing

The Art of Storytelling – Thanks, Ira Glass.

Okay, let’s get away from the crass promotion aspect of being an author for a bit. It’s necessary, but let’s face it: NOT why most of us got into this line of work.

Why most of us DID get into it was to have a way to tell stories. Stories that run around in our heads and pop up at the most inopportune times. Stories that often serve as our best friends and our greatest nemeses. Stories whose characters speak to us so clearly, and so often, that they begin surfacing in our dreams, threatening to become more real than the real people we know.

What? You thought you were the only one? You thought you were alone in this sickness, this obsession that won’t leave you alone?

Please…you’re special, but not that special.

You share this particular brand of neurosis with bajillions of others. The difference is, you’re one of those who haven’t learned to put it in its place; to find a safe, dark spot to shove it into until it suffocates and its voice is extinguished.

Congratulations. You’re a writer.

And I do mean those congrats most sincerely. I fear for a world in which only what’s “real” is taken seriously (which is funny, coming from someone who primarily reads nonfiction because fantasy has never latched on to me that much). But that doesn’t keep me from understanding that the world of the possible — of the potentially real, of the imagination, where good really can triumph over evil and greed, self-interest and mistrust — is the only one that will ultimately save us from this very real world currently being torn apart by hatred, intolerance and fear.

As pretentious as it may seem, I believe wholly that imagination is the source of all art (along with other helpful playmates such as passion and hope, intuition and not a small amount of magic), and I believe that art will save the world. I do. Perhaps I must, since it’s apparent that nothing else is working and I need a reason to get up in the morning.

So, storytellers, we have a job to do, and we must do it well. The world’s counting on us. And so we must bend our backs to studying our craft and mastering its foundations.

Happily, these foundations don’t exist in a vacuum. They are shared across artistic disciplines. Which brings me to recommend a series of short videos I think really captures the root of storytelling in a nutshell. Granted, the teacher here — Ira Glass, host of Public Radio’s much-loved series, This American Life — is talking specifically about radio, and to a point, video and film. But it doesn’t matter. The ideas he puts forth are solid , storytelling-in-any-medium, gold.

So spend 20 minute or so and watch Mr. Glass, in his inimitable way, explain the building blocks of effective storytelling. Then think about how it relates to what you do every time you sit down with a pen and pad or your computer. I hope you revisit these vids more than once, to see if you missed anything.

I know I will.