Friday, May 27, 2011

On Creation and Storytelling

To create something great is to tell a good story. And how do you tell a good story? Ira Glass of This American Life has some great tips about this in a set of videos on storytelling. Most of Ira's tips are important not just for journalists and novelists, but for anyone involved in any type of creative endeavor. Painters tell stories with their brushes, programmers tell stories with their code, entrepreneurs tell stories with their products, scientists tell stories with their papers, engineers tell stories with their inventions. Here's how they do it.

First, they build a story out of anecdotes and reflections. Anecdotes are the linear sequence of events at the heart of the story: first this happend, then this, which made me say this, so on.. They ask little questions and answer them. This builds momentum and keeps the listener thinking: "What's next?"
But an anecdote alone does not a story make. Moments of reflection tell the reader why the story is important: "Why is it worth my time?" Good storytellers seamlessly interweave anecdotes and reflections.

Second, they make a lot of stories and kill the ones that suck. Getting rid of bad stories is as important as writing new ones. Killing the bad stuff makes the good stuff shine. Good storytellers edit ruthlessly.

Third, they have a killer taste for what's good. Often they know what's good, before they can make good stuff themselves. Early in your career, the stuff you create sucks. And you know it sucks because it doesn't live up to your great taste. But don't quit here. Good storytellers create. A lot. Until the stuff they create doesn't suck as much.

Fourth, they get over the beginner's pitfall of imitating creators they love. The world doesn't need another Shakespeare; it needs your new creations. Good storytellers find their own voice.

Now just go write, film, photograph, paint, build, code, design, research, invent,... just go create.


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