Wednesday 20 October 2021

Science of Storytelling

 Fado fado i Sasana . . .

The Science of Storytelling - Why Stories Make Us Human and How to Tell Them Better is a book by Will Storr "Award winning journalist, best-selling author and story-telling speaker" according to his own puff. He's also an accomplished ghostwriter so it's not clear if his "has sold a million books" includes the works for which he received cash but no credit. 

The only time I was paid cash for creative writing, what the reader saw became notably more readable and engaging because of the care and attention of a copy-editor from Natural History. There is clearly something to The Craft of writing: the information content is only part of the story. Even clear, unambiguous conveyance of facts and ideas can be dull dull dull. You can teach Craft in college or writer's workshops and some of the students may even pick some up of the floor in these sessions but again obey proscriptive rules doesn't make the story take wings. I also worry that the care and attention of that copy-editor from Natural History moulds every submission into a similar generic house-style which also can be a bit dull. Here's a rule: the only verb that may be used to anchor dialogue is "said". The argument is that, if you use murmured, cried, ejaculated, the readers attention is diverted and distracted from the actual dialogue. Kerri ní Dochairtaigh's persistent use of wee instead of small, tiny or little was distracting although allowable given that wee is the standard in the Scots and Nornish dialects of English; for the rest of us wee is yellow.

Will Storr's contribution to the how to write better conversation is to read a few books and a few papers of accessible psychology and use these to better order sentences and paragraphs so that curiosity is maintained right up to the end. His position is that curiosity is a key element of what it is to be human. We are, despite the Armani suit and iPhone, not parsably different from the palaeolithic hunter-gatherers who were our ancestors a mere 1,000 generations ago. Stories are one powerful way of informing children [and adults, indeed] about the acceptable limits of behaviour in our time and place. [Aside 'tho Storr doesn't say this: Step-mothers get bad press in fairy stories. I think it's a bit glib to frame the trope into the different reproductive strategies of the incoming woman and the genetically unrelated sub-adults already occupying the home [and heart, we hope] of the Patriarch].

It's likewise superficial to present a, probably under-powered, probably WEIRD, psychological study with a >!shazzam!< flourish to explain why MacBeth works by MacHinery needs oiling. 

Another strongly held Storr belief is that character should drive the story, not the plot. If characters are just automata carrying the story forward, then the story will ring hollow - because it is. IF you can create believable, internally consistent, even if contradictory people [or hobbits or rabbits], THEN the story has a heart which can beat in harmony with the reader's.

It's not that I think this book is not worth reading [or hearing - it's on Borrowbox] but I do recommend buffing up your crap-detector before accepting all its findings. Indeed, Storr is at pains to say that his ideas hope to help readers become better writers; and there is always more than one way to nail the plot. If you can't read the book [7 hours] Will Storr does it in 15 TEDx minutes. If you're planning on writing your first novel, then the Science of Storytelling is not worse than any number of books analysing the structure of the novel from the perspective, and with the tool-kit, of The Arts Block.

No comments:

Post a Comment