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Tim and His Thoughts

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The Cult of “The One”

Something I’ve been noticing in popular media for a while now is a fixation on a character most commonly referred to as “the One.” Neo. Harry Potter. I think Master Chief even got pulled into it this last go round. (Side note: if anyone can explain what the hell was supposed to be going on in Halo 4  and why I should care you have my thanks. And awe. Anyways…)

What is the cult of “The One”? Simply put it’s the difference between a typical protagonist and the destined hero of fate upon whose shoulders all the earth falls. Harry defeats Voldemort not because of some inner strength, but because in accordance with fate he is the singular person in all the earth who is capable of doing so. Somehow. That’s not to say a character arc and inner strength don’t inform the story. Certainly, they do. But Morpheus ain’t the one dodging bullets.

It’s not that I don’t like some of these stories. The Matrix  is a seriously cool movie. But I think the concept is both tired and misleading.

The One characters are build on the Christ figure archetype. Christ is the one and only son of God, so he is the only one in all the earth – ever- who can atone for sin. Likewise, “One” characters are generally destined in some way. There is something supernatural that limits those who could do what they do to only them. From a storytelling perspective, this works in the Gospels because although Christ is the focal figure he’s not the one we the audience identifies with. We see Christ in his perfection and quickly realize that status is unattainable (Again, from a storytelling perspective. I’m not trying to go into theology here.) Who we can identify with are the disciples. They’re normal folks, and some of the stuff Jesus says and does seems as weird to them as it does to us. Not only that, but Jesus starts and ends supremely powerful. A passing knowledge of Christian trinitarian theology makes us very aware that any perceived inability is a willing one, and we see Jesus as very much in control of some massive power multiple times through the story.

In general, the One character arcs try to capture this same idea, but infuse it with the imperfection of a normal hero. Let’s face it: all-powerful characters aren’t that fun to watch, and there has to be some pretty compelling motivation to make the temporary abandonment of powers believable. Let’s use Neo as a case study.

Neo is certainly a Christ figure in The Matrix. There’s a prophecy which speaks of his coming and his sole ability to set things right. Pretty straightforward. But far from being all powerful, Neo is pretty helpless. He learns quickly once he joins the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar, but power is something he has to grow into slowly and painfully. He makes mistakes. He gets beat up. And not because he’s allowing himself to; he’s powerless to stop it. It’s a very interesting reversal from the structure of the archetype, and pretty much every “One” figure follows it.

So here’s my problem with the one figures: what makes Neo special? If he goes from zero to hero, what is it that makes him uniquely predestined to succeed on a massive scale? As a counterexample, let’s look at Frodo from The Lord of the Rings. As the ring bearer, Frodo is in a position where the fate of the world rests on his shoulders. What he is not is the predestined carrier of the One Ring, the only one who could ever destroy it. No. Frodo finds himself in a particular circumstance and ultimately rises to the challenge, but Sam serves as the ring bearer for a while. Gollum is the one who ends up destroying the Ring. Frodo was put in a tremendously important position by an act of fate, but anyone else could have found themselves in the same position, and I argue that makes Frodo’s story all the better. He could have quit at any time, said that it was someone else’s responsibility. What made Frodo special is that he carried out the task, not that he was the only one capable of doing so.

Let’s look at another LotR example: Aragorn. As a member of the line of Isildur and heir to the throne of Gondor, it’s hard to argue that Aragorn isn’t beholden to some amount of destiny. Certainly he didn’t do anything to make himself Isildur’s heir. That’s just the way things are. But by the same token, there’s nothing to say that Aragorn is the one who must rise to take the throne. His father was Isildur’s heir, but he didn’t do it. Aragorn isn’t a “One” figure because, like Frodo, there’s nothing tying him to that role. How much more meaningful is his decision to abandon his past life and try to wrangle Denethor if that’s a path he could walk away from? It tells us so much more about his character. Neo may want to go back to how things were, but fate will not let him.

I like the idea that heroes can come from anywhere. The story of a flawed character rising to the occasion when not doing so is a real option is so much more compelling than the story of a flawed character who has no choice at all. (And just to be clear: this is a very different scenario than, say, a tragic hero unable to outrun fate or a true Christ figure who exercises choice in the decision to lay aside power.) But beyond that, I think the mythology of “The One” is fairly insidious, and that’s why I refer to it as the Cult of “The One.”

What are we really expressing with a One story? I think a big part of it has to be the desire to rise from humble beginnings. But this is possible in any story, so why do we see the One? It’s because we’re an entitled culture. The One may work hard to hone his/her skills, but the fact that a character in The One implies something innate. Neo is offered a pill that springs him from the trap of his mundane life. It’s easy to see where the appeal is. The Cult of The One says we don’t have to work for what we get. Working might even be pointless. Yes, Neo has Morpheus, Trinity, and the rest, but can they do what he can? They’re replaceable. Neo is not. We like the idea that great power will just be given to us one day.

That’s scary.

Look, I’m not saying that every “One” story is evil. I just think we need to be aware of some of the implicit messages of this story and the ways it puts a particular twist on the archetype it’s working from. Plus, I think it’s just lazy storytelling.

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Two Roads Diverged In A Yellow Wood…

This started as a post on binary moral systems in games, but has morphed into something quite different. I think I’ll get back to exploring moral systems in game design sometime soon, but for now I want to discuss something a little different: divergent narrative in games.

A lot of people were pretty upset by the end of Mass Effect 3. With the Mass Effect series, developer BioWare was trying something extremely ambitious, something that, to my knowledge, has never been done before. By allowing you to import your saved character from game to game, by the end of Mass Effect 3 you had the culmination of three games worth of choices. Some, very difficult choice. And while the final fight was appropriately harrowing, the game ended by essentially making you choose the red, blue, or green ending. Thus the hoopla.

But while that choice was indeed disappointing, I think there’s a deeper reason that people were upset about the ending, and one that perhaps isn’t being talked about very much.

What the Mass Effect series promised players was that our choices would make a difference. That they would have a tangible effect on the world. And for the most part, the first two games maintained this illusion. Yes, illusion. Because as the third game illustrates so well, everything plays out basically the same regardless of what we do. And to some extent that makes sense. In Mass Effect you play as a singular figure who, however influential, is still one man (or woman) in a galaxy of trillions. There’s a lot going on that we as Commander Shepard don’t have a direct hand in. But part of BioWare’s design of Mass Effect is to put the player at the crux of galaxy-rocking events. So it feels like our actions should have broad and lasting consequences. (ME1 ending spoilers!) When Sovreign attacks the Citadel at the end of Mass Effect and you have the choice whether to save the Council or not, that’s a big decision with some very wide consequences. It feels as though this and other decisions out to tangibly change the world.

But ultimately we’re still run through the same basic series of events. Mostly this is just a development necessity. The Mass Effect games clock in at least 20 hours each. There’s no time or budget to craft multiple complete storylines. And it’s well justified in the plot: the impeding doom of the Reapers coming is going to railroad galactic priorities regardless of what you would do on your own as Commander Shepard.

That’s the problem, though. Ultimately, the narrative and the game mechanics are telling the player contradictory truths. And by the end the narrative still stands, and it seems the game mechanics, the way we interact with the world of Mass Effect, were the lie. Thus, the player feels betrayed.

So with due respect to the 20+ hour experiences that we know and love, I believe it’s time for someone to step in a bold new direction. Let’s imagine a game where your decisions as the player did lead to drastically different events, not just different twists on the same event. It would be the sort of game where your play-through really would be dramatically different from your friends’. Never mind nuances on the same plot, but, say, three to five distinctive plotlines.

So let’s go back to developmental constraints and see where this leads. Obviously each plotline couldn’t be sustained 20 hours. That would be the equivalent of developing three or for games, even if you assume some overlap of locations and characters. But what about 8-10 hours of predominantly unique story per plotline? A triple-A developer would have the resources to do that, and 8-10 hours of gameplay nothing to sneeze at.

Plus, you can pretty well guarantee that the player is going to replay the game at least once, meaning the standard play-time for an action/adventure/RPG type game is met. And furthermore, the player is rewarded for playing differently, enacting different characters in the same situation. It gives the developer a lot of room for artistic exploration of human psychology, personality, the nature of life, etc. If games are truly an art form, they need to communicate on an intuitive level through aesthetic means. This sort of design would open up new avenues to do that.

I’m not saying that old modes of game design should disappear, only that the growth of the medium comes through continuing to explore new ones. This seems like a logical progression that has a lot of new territory worth exploring. I can’t wait to see some big games that take the risk and employing truly divergent plots to develop meaningful player choice this step further than anything that’s come before.

That’s Not ****ing Unabridged!

I have a rather long commute to my work every day (oh, if every day were Yom Kippur. I got to work in nearly half the time it usually takes me today. But I digress…) so I keep an audiobook going nearly all the time. That’s right, the solution to your daily commute: audiobooks. I still have to pay attention to the road, of course, but for at least 90 minutes a day I have me time where – get this – someone reads to me! It’s like being in elementary school all over again!

Over the last few weeks I’ve read a variety of books, everything from Ivanhoe (Sir Walter Scott) to Prey (Michael Crichton). Currently, I’m in the middle of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Whatever I read/listen to, though, I am very sure to only get unabridged versions of the audiobooks.  So something on my ride home got me a bit miffed.

I was listening to A Farewell to Arms and some of the characters were talking and getting a little worked up, and then one of them swore. Or at least, I can only surmise that he swore because the word was silenced. Not bleeped out, silenced, like a scratch on the CD caused it to skip.

Look, I’m certainly not one for excessive profanity, but this is ridiculous. If I were to actually read the book, I seriously doubt the word would have been redacted, a thick black bar obscuring the text for those four letters. Unabridged means that the text has not been shortened, and by extension, otherwise altered. Look, this isn’t TV we’re talking about. There aren’t rules about what can and can’t be said. Hemingway put the word in there for a reason and I see no reason that the audiobook company should have removed it.

Words have power. That’s part of why swearing should be used so sparingly. Cuss words are crude implements, but properly implemented they can have great poignancy.

I’m in full support of editing all the unnecessary swearing out of movies, books, etc. before they are published. We’ll tell better stories that way. Profanity for profanity’s sake isn’t helping anybody. But we can agree that Ernest Hemingway was a pretty great author. The book was published with the word in there. I want the full force of Hemingway’s prose, not some truncated version.

I don’t really have more to say right now because I’m a little exasperated by this (could you tell?), but this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of this sort of thing. There was a pretty big hullabaloo not that long ago when some publisher decided to edit “nigger” out of Mark Twain’s writing. I’m not going to try to tell you that’s a pretty word. It’s not. But that’s also why it’s important. You don’t get the same characterization or effect out of another word.

Please, stop messing with our books. We’re smart enough to decide what’s worth reading and what’s not without some editor choosing for us.

Raps, Psalms, Stories, and Emotional Behavior

Ok, I’ll try to keep this as short and making as much sense as possible, but here goes with some random musings.

I’m not a big fan of rap music. Some of this has to do with repetitive musicality, but moreover a lot of it I just don’t find that pleasant lyrically. I did, however, have a roommate for a few years who was a big rap fan. Listening to his music didn’t turn me around on the genre, but I was at least exposed to to more of it. Simultaneously, I was taking a class in which we were studying Psalms. There are some psalms that are theologically challenging because they talk about how God has abandoned the psalmist and brought different calamities upon him. We were taught that these psalms, as Hebrew poetry, were better understood as reflecting how a particular situation felt to the psalmist rather than how things actually were. And it struck me one day: I bet we can see a lot of rap music in the same way. It helped me gain a lot of respect for the genre, even if it still isn’t usually my go-to music.

And I was thinking today: that’s really true with a lot of art, specifically, with a lot of stories. The stories we tell are rarely objective, rational accounts of things that happen. There’s plenty to suggest that such objectivity is humanly impossible. Stories, therefore, represent a person’s interpretation of events as much as they represent the events themselves. Often, a story can talk about the way an event felt to a character.

Then I got to thinking: You know how a lot of people blame popular media, especially movies, for giving people unrealistic ideas of the way things work? Love stories get blamed for this a lot. I’m not suggesting we completely absolve Hollywood for a lot of the ridiculousness that goes on, but we do tell the stories we tell for a reason. What if some of these artificially accelerated and intense love stories are told the way they are because that’s a reflection of how these things feel? I mean, we eat them up. There has to be something in them that resonates at true to real life. We just too often confuse it as the way these things actually occur.

O Grammar, Where Art Thou?

As I was working the other day, I happened upon a website for a production company. I’m not going to say which one, but it’s a serious company that has produced at least one film which garnered Academy Award attention in the last few years. But goodness, their website is awful. I don’t mean in a design sort of way. It’s very simplistic, but I think it does everything the company really needs from their website. No, it’s awful because in the six very short paragraphs which describe the company and its vision, there are no fewer than 13 grammatical mistakes to go along with some generally sub-par writing. I’m sure I make grammatical errors from time to time, but these were so blatantly obvious. This is a professional company! This website is their public face!

So this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to transpose the text in question below (removing, of course, any identifying names) and go through each and every error I found. Then I’m going to rewrite the sections to remove the grammatical mistakes and improve their overall quality. Oh, and for later reference I’ve marked issues with colored numbers. Red numbers are grammatical errors, yellow numbers are for examples of particularly poor writing.

Without further ado, here’s the text. First, from their “About” section.

“Formed by the Academy Award nominated producer,1 [Executive Smith].2 [The Company] is an American feature film production company based in Los Angeles, CA. [The Company] focuses on developing a unique slate with the goal of finding stories3 that resonate.4

[Smith] produced the comedic feature [A Funny Film], which played at the Sundance Film Festival;5 as well as [Another Movie], a spaghetti-style western starring [Actor A] and [Actor B],6 which was distributed domestically by [One Distributor] and internationally by [Another Distributor].

[The Company], with [Smith] at the helm, has also extensively collaborated7 with hometown friend8 and actor/writer/director [Friendly Man]. These projects include the multi-award winning short film,9 “[A Short],” followed by the feature,10 [This Feature They Made], which screened in over 36 festivals and garnered numerous awards. [Our Big Movie] marks [Smith] and [Friendly’s] third project with their longtime friend, writer/actress [Lady Jones] (“Miss Character”), who had11 starred in their previous two films.”

And now from their “Content” section:

“[The Company] is currently collaborating with producers, writers, and directors in development of12 it’s13 2012-2013 slate.

The focus of [The Company] is feature films14 with a human element that resonates emotionally with an audience. The universal truths and questions we all must all face.15

[Our Big Movie] is a great example of the films16 [The Company] strives to make; however17 our slate is quite diverse. It18 ranges from a psychological thriller about a mother protecting her son to an inspiring,19 true story of a married, interracial couple who created and lead20 an entire nation against all odds.”

And now for the errors. A reminder: red numbers are for the things that are flatly wrong. Yellow ones are for things that aren’t necessarily wrong, but reflect poor writing in some way.

  1. Boy, two errors right off the bat. The “the” earlier in the sentence is the key to this first one. It makes the producer’s name the subject of the sentence rather than an appositive phrase (as the comma would suggest. “The Academy Award nominated producer” is a phrase which acts as an adjective for the proper noun of the producer’s name, and thus, there should be no comma.
  2. The sentence is a fragment. With this grammatical construction, there ought to be a comma after “[Executive Smith] to connect it to what would be the rest of the sentence.
  3. “With the goal of finding stories”? Really? That could all be replaced by the word “of.”
  4. There’s nothing grammatically wrong with ending the sentence, “stories that resonate.” The problem is that things aren’t usually just resonating. They’re resonating with something, like a tuning fork with a particular pitch. We have no idea how these stories are resonating. Are they resonating with a particular pitch, too? We can reasonably infer that it has something to do with emotions and an audience, but the construction makes it really unclear. And it just sounds awkward.
  5. “Which played at the Sundance Film Festival” constitutes an appositive phrase, describing or re-naming “[A Funny Film].” Thus, it should terminate in another comma rather than a semicolon.
  6. There should not be a comma following “[Actor B]” since the parts of the sentence it seeks to connect are already parts of the same phrase.
  7. To be fair, this is probably the nitpickiest issue of the lot. It just sounds better to say “collaborated extensively” than “extensively collaborated.”
  8. As constructed, the sentence suggest that [Friendly Man] is [The Company’s] friend rather than [Smith’s]. Given, I don’t know that this is the case, but it seems far more likely that [Friendly Man’s] “hometown friend” is a person, not a company.
  9. This one’s almost exactly like #1. No comma is needed prior to the introduction of the film’s title. It’s part of the sentence, not a separate phrase.
  10. See #7
  11. The word “had” is fairly unnecessary. “Starred” already communicates the past tense, and there’s no reason for the verb to be passive. It could be trying to emphasize that they had already worked together on the past collaborative projects, in which case substituting “also” for “had” might be a preferable choice.
  12. “In development of” is both passive and clunky. “To develop” is cleaner and it emphasizes the strength of the company.
  13. “It’s” means it is. “Its” is possessive.
  14. “The focus is feature films” just sounds a little weird, due, I think, to the switch from the singular “focus” and “is” to the plural “films” (you can ignore “of [The Company],” which is a prepositional phrase functioning as an adjective).
  15. Another fragment, plus “all” is repeated unnecessarily.
  16. The plural “films” does not agree with singular “is” and “[Our Big Movie].”
  17. Here the semicolon is actually used correctly, but there should be a comma following “however.”
  18. It’s a little vague exactly what the “It” is referring to.
  19. The comma here is unnecessary.
  20. The present “lead” does not agree with the past tense “created.” It ought to be either “create” and “lead” or “created” and “led.”

So revised the whole thing might read something like this:

About:

“Formed by the Academy Award nominated producer [Executive Smith], [The Company] is an American feature film production company based in Los Angeles, CA. [The Company] focuses on developing a unique slate of stories that resonate emotionally with audiences worldwide.

[Smith] produced the comedic feature [A Funny Film], which played at the Sundance Film Festival, as well as [Another Movie], a spaghetti-style western starring [Actor A] and [Actor B] which was distributed domestically by [One Distributor] and internationally by [Another Distributor].

[The Company], with [Smith] at the helm, has also collaborated extensively with [Smith’s] hometown friend, actor/writer/director [Friendly Man]. These projects include the multi-award winning short film “[A Short],” followed by the feature [This Feature They Made], which screened in over 36 festivals and garnered numerous awards. [Our Big Movie] marks [Smith] and [Friendly’s] third project with their longtime friend, writer/actress [Lady Jones] (“Miss Character”), who also starred in their previous two films.”

Content:

“[The Company] is currently collaborating with producers, writers, and directors to develop its 2012-2013 slate.

[The Company] focuses on feature films with emotionally resonant human elements which explore universal truths and questions all people must address.

[Our Big Movie] is a great example of the kind of film [The Company] strives to make; however, our slate is quite diverse. Our lineup of films ranges from a psychological thriller about a mother protecting her son to an inspiring true story of a married, interracial couple who creates and leads an entire nation against all odds.”

Grammar may be annoying at times, but it’s important, folks.

The Narrator in “Dune”

I just finished reading Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune. If you haven’t read it before, I highly recommend that you add it to your reading list.

One of the things that sets Dune apart from any other book I’ve read is (as the title of this post suggests) the narratorial voice. The narrator is 3rd person, but exists somewhere between the shifting and omniscient persuasions. That is, the narrator very clearly knows everything, but most of the action is related from the point of view of a specific character. This in and of itself isn’t weird; there are plenty of books that shift subject and plenty of omniscient narrators who deign to tell the thoughts of their characters. The uniqueness of Dune‘s narrator comes from the rapidity at which it shifts from subject to subject.

Characters in any story are defined primarily ways that fall into one of three categories: physical, social, and psychological. The physical refers to the way a character looks, talks, smells, moves; basically any objective quality detected by the senses (philosophical debates about the objectivity and reliability of the senses aside). Social refers to the way others see a character, both in the personal sense of a particular characters point of view and the more general sense of “this is how others generally perceive this character.” It’s an interpretation of a character’s words and actions by other characters. Psychological characterization is both what the character thinks of themselves and the mental processes they go through in perceiving the actions of others and the world around them. Interesting characters tend to have one of these elements lying in conflict with the others.

The narrator in Dune is particularly adept at employing all three of these methods of characterization. By switching quickly among different characters’ perspectives, the narrator is able to juxtapose one conception of a situation with another very easily. As we the readers see an event from a particular character’s point of view, we learn about both that character and those he or she is interacting with. Then the perspective shifts and we get an alternate take on the same scene. We learn the characters of Dune very intimately because of this.

The problem, however, and incidentally the reason I didn’t like Dune‘s narrator, is twofold. First, there are occasions that the reader is clearly seeing an event from the perspective of a specific character, but because the perspective has shifted it’s unclear which character is making the observation. And because so much of the characterization is intimately dependent on which character is observing the action, we readers really need to know who we’re “following” at all times. To Herbert’s credit, it’s not that often that we completely lose sight of who we’re following, though the rapid changes can be quite jarring. Second, always knowing what everyone is thinking kills some of the mystery. We as readers want to have something to figure out. Seeing a chapter exclusively from the perspective of one character would give us time to entrench ourselves in that character’s point of view, to wonder what the other characters think of the same situation. It’s not that finding out later how another character perceived a situation isn’t a good thing. It is. Juxtaposition, like I said, is valuable. But at least I, for one, would appreciate a little more space. We know too much too quickly.

So there you have it. A very brief rundown of one of the more unique narrators you’ll be likely to encounter.

A Quasi-Manifesto of Storytelling

As some of you may know, I’ve recently graduated from Wheaton College with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, focusing on storytelling in different media. As part of the capstone course for the major, I wrote a paper outlining my thoughts on storytelling as a whole. I think it turned out pretty well and most of the thoughts in it are things I’ve wanted to share here in one way or another. So below you’ll find most of that paper I wrote. (Most because I’ve omitted parts that talk only about my final project and not about storytelling in general).

So anyways, this is sort of a summation of where my thoughts on storytelling came to after four years of study.

Creative Storytelling: An Investigation of Craft

Introduction

Some of my fondest memories growing up are of my parents and grandparents telling me stories and reading to me. I knew what to expect from each of them: from my grandmother, it was made-up realistic adventure stories. From my granddaddy, it was tales of his past, an unplumbable depth of hunting and fishing escapades, and stories of growing up in small-town south Texas. From my mom came stories of growing up, too, along with the Boxcar Children series. And from my dad, I was tucked in to tall-tales and the Little House on the Prairie series. I drank them all in like water. As I got older, I kept taking in stories wherever I could find them. Book after book. Batman on TV. Any movie I could find. I got lost in these other worlds, other places. My mom worried I was turning apostate because I wouldn’t stop talking about the mythology in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a favorite video game, and it was not uncommon to find my bedroom quite literally covered in LEGOs as I acted out some epic of my own.

The point of all this, of course, is that I love stories. There have been plenty of interests in my life to this point, but as I look back, one of the few constant passions have been stories. Thus, this study and this project.  The goal of my study, simply stated, is an understanding of storytelling in a way that transcends any particular medium. That is, I want to understand how stories work regardless of the form they are found in, from myth to movie, short story to video game.  This paper is in large part an attempt to unpack the implications of this mission statement and to suggest how this might be done.

To begin any such discussion requires a working definition of the term “story.” Through the course of this paper, I will provide a nuanced understanding of this term, but as a starting point, a story should be understood the whole comprised of events, characters, themes, etc. and communicated through such forms as novels, plays, myths, movies, and the like (“forms” in this paper understood to mean these particular methods of storytelling within a medium). I mean story in this very specific sense – that it describes the whole. In contrast, Merriam-Webster defines story as “an account of incidents or events.” This is what I would call plot, and the two cannot be confused. Story is greater than plot, more than theme, and larger than archetype; it is the master which all these things serve.

My “Disciplines”

While my study involves (and rightly so) the academic disciplines of English and communications, my effective disciplines are actually the storytelling forms themselves. These forms, as well as theory and insight surrounding their practice, are housed chiefly within these two departments. While I certainly to aspire to produce good writing, the stated goal of my study is not a writing practicum in any particular form. It is the understanding of storytelling. To this end, I choose to draw insight wherever it may be found. Even supposing my personal end to be writing a better short story, can’t the study of theater improve my manipulation of symbol? Or a study of game design, my understanding of character? Different forms have different emphases. They allow one to see stories from slightly different angles, which in turn provide a lens through which to gain a fuller picture of story told in any medium. The goal of my integration here is not the production of new storytelling forms, but the cross-application of insights which are traditionally bound up within a single form to A) improve practice within a given form, and B) develop a fuller understanding of the mechanics of storytelling. This paper will develop a rationale for these goals, as well as what is meant by these terms.

 Driving Questions

Two questions in particular have shaped my exploration into storytelling: 1) What makes a good story? and 2) How do we tell a story well? These questions are intimately related; they both seek truth about essential pieces of storytelling. But careful examination reveals meaningful differences in the sort of answer they seek. The first question requires a moral judgment. It asks, what is good? And how should one go about determining what is good? The second, on the other hand, asks for judgment of a different sort. While the first asks which stories are worth telling, the second pays no heed to whether or not the story ought to be told and focuses only on the quality of the telling.

Craft vs. Criticism

The difference in the aims of the two questions above reflects an essential divide in the way stories are studied. Ultimately both are important, and the answers they provoke generally both complementary and intertwined, but it is important to understand the basic ways their approaches differ. For the purposes of this essay, the two approaches will be termed the Craft approach (which corresponds to the second of the driving questions: How do we tell a story well?) and the Critical (or Criticism, used interchangeably as grammar of the particular sentence dictates) approach (which corresponds to the first question: What makes a good story?). It should be noted that while the definition of the terms “craft” and “criticism” are important to understand in their own right, Craft and Criticism are here used to denote the particular approaches to literature as a whole.

Defining the Approaches

While the differences between the approaches of Craft and Criticism are most fully understood through a number of related distinctions that will be explored shortly, it seems important to first arrive at a basic definition of these two terms and an understanding of what the respective approaches entail.

Craft

Tied up within the definition of craft is the debate regarding the relation of craft and art – specifically, what qualifies as art, and what lies within (or perhaps more commonly is relegated to) the realm of craft. Although the implication of and need for a definition or theory of art will fall largely outside the purview of my study, I think it prudent to briefly address this debate as a means for arriving at a specific definition of craft.

As I mentioned, “craft” is usually used as the pejorative to “art,” supposing them to be meaningfully, if not wholly, different things. Critic R.G. Collingwood is among those who maintain the existence of such a distinction, claiming that “art proper cannot be any kind of craft.” (Collingwood 26). In the second section of his book The Principles of Art, Collingwood lays out his argument in support of this distinction (Collingwood 15-41). His arguments, however, are deeply flawed[1]; chiefly, Collingwood is enamored of an overly scientific approach, but fails to adequately support many of his claims. He relies on flawed metaphors, and is ultimately unconvincing in arguing for a sharp divide between the realms of art and craft.

Many writers and other storytellers refer to themselves as craftsmen far more frequently than as artists, even if they would describe their own work primarily as art. In keeping with this (and in contrast to Collingwood), I would suggest that all art is also craft, although the inverse is not also true. Craft is a process by which particular skill is applied to produce a particular product, anything from a chair, to a painting, to a story. Art is then a state of being, a badge of honor which we pin on works of craftsmanship which speak in a particular way to the human soul. As I said, it is not within the purpose of this study or this paper to define and defend a philosophy of art. Rather, the above represents a generally accepted definition of craft (even Collingwood defends a similar definition) combined with my own opinion regarding the nature of art.

The important takeaway here is that craft is invariably tied to practice and skill. Part of the way a one studies any craft must be through practice. This is integral to the Craft approach: stories are studied as works of craftsmanship. They are examined with the presupposition that the student might apply insight gained in his own practice of the craft, just as an apprentice blacksmith will learn technique from watching his master. He comes to see not just the product, but the particular way in which the product is produced. The Craft approach is an inherently practical one, and as we shall see, this commitment informs the way the Craft approach looks at storytelling. This requires careful investigation of the pieces that make up a story and its telling, just as a carpenter must understand the use of a variety of tools, techniques, and types of wood in order to make just the sort of chair he hopes to.

Criticism

The terms “criticism” and “critical” carry severely negative connotations in the modern world. To be critical is to condemn. The traditional understanding of these words, however, casts no such shadow. This is reflected more in the term “critic,” as applied particularly to media reviewers. Critics of film, literature, theater – these are not people who detest these media; rather, they are immersed in them. A critic speaks the language of evaluation, yes, but for the purpose of praise as much as censure. It is the role of a critic to evaluate, and indeed to interpret, a story. Thus, the Critical approach is deeply couched in theory. It sees a story in the context of its culture, genre tradition, and audience. Involved in this, as previously discussed, is an essentially moral judgment. It is the critic’s job to reflect on the story as a part of the broader human narrative, not just on the way it was constructed on a mechanical level. Seeing a story in its historical and cultural context requires judgment regarding the story’s worth.

Implicit in the Critical approach is a discussion of the worth of storytelling. If there is a moral judgment to be made, that implies that stories are affective in the ways people live their lives. While it is important to note this influence, particularly in the Critical approach, of arguments about the worth of stories or beliefs regarding their transformative efficacy, such a debate lies largely outside the realm of this study. A study of storytelling (regardless of approach) presupposes that stories have worth, and it is not within the bounds of this inquiry to determine the particulars of what that worth is.

A Direct Comparison

Certainly, the approaches of Craft and Criticism are intertwined with one another. Critical evaluation requires some understanding of craft[2], and proper evaluation of craft needs some judgment of comparative quality. It is still important, though, to understand that Craft and Criticism approach stories from essentially different perspectives.

Imagine that a story is some tangible object sitting in front of you. A mug, for instance, sitting on a table with lots of other dishes, cups, and utensils. The Craft approach recognizes that the mug sits among many other dishes, but it makes little comparison and pays little attention beyond simple recognition of presence to the other dishes. Instead, its widest focus is on the mug itself. The Craft approach scrutinizes that single mug, taking in every characteristic that makes up that whole mug: the material it’s made from, the color, whether there are designs on its sides, whether or not it has handle, whether it’s dirty or clean, empty or full. The mug as a whole is something different than simply the sum of these parts, but all these parts together make up the whole of the mug. The Craft approach is one that zooms in. The story itself is the highest, largest thing, the widest focus. The Craft approach views each element in detail, carefully examining its characteristics and function in relation to the whole. Craft never loses sight of context, it just limits the context to the story itself.

Criticism, on the other hand, places story towards the smaller end of its focus. Returning to the mug on the table, the Critical approach acknowledges the mug’s characteristics, even as they contribute to the mug’s whole, but it sees the mug within the context of the whole table. It compares to other dishes, and in this context ultimately passes judgment on whether the mug is a good dish or not. It is an approach that rises and expands outwards. Whereas Craft is concerned only with the way the mug’s elements form its whole, Criticism judges whether the whole was a good whole to form.

Story Purpose and Authorial Purpose

A related distinction that must be made has to do the dual purpose inherent to storytelling: the difference between the purpose of the story itself and the purpose of the story’s author (here used as a general designation for whoever crafted the story, regardless of medium).

A story’s purpose is essentially reflexive; that is, a story’s purpose is to be a story. The key question, then, is “What kind of story is it trying to be?” Just as a building can be anything from a shed to a skyscraper, a story can take on a number of different forms or be trying to do a number of different things. That purpose may be directed (i.e. a story trying to do X, Y, or Z), but a story in itself makes no judgment about its direction. It succeeds to the extent that it achieves X, Y, or Z. A story fulfills its purpose by doing what it is trying to do as a story. A story’s concern, then, pertains to its component elements. The story, once again, becomes the highest level of concern, meaning that questions of story purpose fall more within the Craft approach.

Conversely, an author’s purpose is essentially ethical in nature. An author (ideally) tells a particular story in a particular way for a particular reason. That reason need not be any more serious than “It was fun” or “Because I felt like it,” but it is still a reason, and still subject to ethical evaluation. The author directs the story’s purpose, but also passes moral judgment on that purpose through its very selection over other possible purposes. Clearly, then, questions of authorial purpose are most closely related to the Critical approach.

The two are integrated but must be viewed separately. If we think of the telling of a story as analogous to the construction of a building, the authorial purpose determines what sort of building ought to be built and where it ought to go, whereas the story purpose concerns itself only with building the best building possible according to those designs. Again, we see that although the two purposes share some concerns, the author’s purpose is primarily ethical while the story’s purpose is primarily one of craftsmanship.

As an example of this distinction, let’s look at George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984. In his essay “Why I Write” Orwell said, “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism.” (Orwell 394). That is a moral evaluation of differing forms of government and a purpose to his telling of 1984 (which was first published in 1949). However, the story’s purpose in 1984 is to be a story that illuminates possible effects of an utterly totalitarian state on both society and the individual. It passes no moral judgment on whether or not totalitarianism is a bad thing, but rather seeks the means of telling, of craftsmanship, that will best serve this purpose.

“To Entertain and To Instruct”

In his introduction to the 2010 issue of The Best American Short Stories, Richard Russo relates the story of how, as a young professor, he heard writer Isaac Bashevis Singer speak. When asked what the purpose of literature was, Singer replied, “To entertain and to instruct.” (Russo xiv) He left it at that, says Russo, as though that was all that needed to be said. When pressed for further comment, Singer declined, simply repeating the maxim. Entertainment and instruction. Together, Singer and Russo suggest, these two purposes make up the basis of all literature, and by extension, all stories. Thus, they are immediately relevant to this investigation.

Let us look first at instruction. Merriam-Webster defines “instruct” as, “to give knowledge to; teach,” or, “to provide with authoritative information or advice.” Both of these definitions imply a sense of direction; that is, the instructor gives direction to the one receiving instruction. The imperative “to instruct,” then, must be linked chiefly to authorial purpose, because as we have seen above, it directs the story purpose. The choice of what instruction is to be given, or what constitutes “authoritative information,” as the second definition puts it, is an inherently ethical one, again linking instruction to the Critical approach.

Entertainment, on the other hand, is slightly more complex. First of all, we must define entertainment. Entertainment is best understood through its relation to another idea: that of engagement. Engagement refers to the connection between an author and audience, which is manifest in two ways: interest and entertainment.

Interest refers to the appreciation of some subject, concept, or idea, anything from a love of travelling to an enjoyment of science fiction. As an idea, interest is atemporal, unembodied, and without action. Interest is connection to an idea rather than a thing, and is therefore passive in nature. Certainly, stories engage readers through mutual subject interest, but at their core stories are embodied, temporally bound, active entities. This is the great advantage of story over discursive forms: speeches and essays depend principally on the audience’s interest in their subject for engagement[3], but a story is able to grow engagement without prior shared interest. Basically, the eye is drawn to motion. When a story appears as a distinctive thing before us, one that moves in interesting ways, we can in some ways not help but watch what happens. For a time, we in the audience forget about ourselves and are wholly transported into the physical story. This form of engagement is what I define as entertainment.

Of the two, then, entertainment is the only method of engagement that the author can affect. An author has no control over the predisposition of an audience to certain interests, but can, by the way he tells it, make his story more embodied and active, more entertaining. Therefore, a story can be made entertaining through the craft of storytelling. Entertainment is tied to the Craft approach.

Methodological Commitments

As I alluded to in my introduction, I’ve been an avid reader ever since I was little, so I was excited going into AP literature classes junior and senior year of high school. I thought they’d be perfect fits. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. In fact, I rather hated those classes, which perplexed me. Some of the problem was simply one of material; I didn’t particularly enjoy a lot of the books we read. But although I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was that didn’t click with me, I knew it was more than simple book selection. Even the discussion surrounding books I’d enjoyed seemed lifeless and disengaging to me. Thus, although I still loved to read, still loved stories, and had no idea what I wanted to major in, I arrived at college pretty sure I didn’t want to study English.

Then another weird thing happened. In the spring of my freshman year I took a creative writing class. We still read and analyzed a lot of stories, just like in my high school lit classes, but there was something different about the way we went about it. It had energy. Life. It was enjoyable. Initially, this only served to confuse me more, but it became one of the catalysts for this study. These were my first steps towards understanding the basic dividing factors between the Craft and Critical approaches.

As I have said, both approaches to storytelling are valid, and the two approaches overlap and intertwine with one another so frequently it is pointless to suppose that someone could employ one to the complete exclusion of the other. Furthermore, each proves advantageous for studying different aspects of storytelling, and a full picture cannot be achieved without the both of them. However, for a number of reasons (not the least of which simple personal inclination) this study leans more heavily on the methodology of the Craft approach.

  1. It is not the purpose of this paper or this study to engage in an ethical debate. One of the things that frustrated me most about the literature classes I’ve taken was an overemphasis on theme. All too often, it felt like I was taking a class in existentialism, and that the stories really didn’t matter so long as they communicated their theme. I maintain that a proper Critical approach doesn’t make the same mistake of overemphasis, but my study is not concerned with laying out moral guidelines which stories ought to follow. People are defensive of their beliefs (and rightly so), especially of their moral and religious commitments. I do not mean to suggest that morals are not important, nor that we should not be engaging in religious debates; in fact, I think in stories is a great place to have some of those debates. But dogmatic pre-commitments can preclude an open talk about quality. Questions germane more to the Craft approach than the Critical approach, as I have suggested above, typically are not question involving moral judgment. This is not to say that craft questions aren’t subjective, only that opinion isn’t based on things people hold as fundamentally “right” or “wrong.” Even if you personally aren’t a fan of, say, Hemmingway’s minimalism, you can still identify what his stories were trying to do (story purpose) and if they were successful at it.
  2. Commenting further on Isaac Singer’s affirmation about the purpose of literature, Richard Russo observes, “Interestingly, he never reversed the order, nor did he fail to pause dramatically between ‘entertain’ and ‘instruct,’ as if he feared his listeners were more likely to forget the first purpose than the second.” (Russo xiv) Entertainment can be a dirty word to “serious” work, but as Singer and Russo point out, entertainment is not only a primary feature of storytelling, it is the first purpose of storytelling. What Singer implies by maintaining the order of his answer is that entertainment must precede instruction. This makes sense when we view entertainment as the basis for an audience’s engagement with a story. If an audience is not engaged, instruction is not possible. A teacher must have student, and further, a student who listens if the teacher hopes to convey any instruction.

Key Questions of a Craft Approach

As alluded to above, a study of storytelling based on a Craft approach is primarily concerned with the relationship between a story’s component elements and the whole of the story. Making each element of a story as strong as it can be is only productive when that strength is directed towards a particular purpose. For example, in his essay “On Science Fiction,” C.S. Lewis explains how a confluence of great things can be self-defeating:

“Every good writer knows that the more unusual the scenes and events of his story are, the slighter, the more ordinary, the more typical his persons should be. Hence Gulliver is a commonplace little man and Alice is a commonplace little girl. If they had been more remarkable they would have wrecked their books.” (Lewis 64-65)

Lewis is speaking here to the particular situation of stories of the wildly fantastic, but the principle is widely applicable. It is imperative that elements work in concert to produce a story rather than fighting for primacy. This is true not only in creating stories, but also in evaluating them. Overemphasizing the importance of one element, such as theme or plot, devalues the contributions of other elements and skews the overall view of the given story. Thus, two guiding questions arise: 1) What is the story trying to do? (or, stated differently, what kind of story is it trying to be) and 2) How and to what extent are the story’s elements contributing to that end?

The Particulars of My Study

While the methodological concerns discussed above are applicable to a wide range of inquiries into storytelling, and indeed I am interested in storytelling as a broad subject, my study has focused on a specific subsection of stories. Limiting my study is necessary due primarily to the sheer volume of material which can be classified as having to do with storytelling. For reasons mentioned earlier and expounded upon below, I still find it important to draw insight of many forms; however, I have selected several particular constraints which, while not free (nor, I believe, should they be) from simple personal inclination, nonetheless make logical sense. The chosen particulars of my study are discussed in the following.

The Bounds of My Study

My particular focuses lie on narrative storytelling forms, the written component of these forms, and stories of fiction rather than of nonfiction.

Narrative Storytelling

Music can be wonderfully evocative. I believe in its power to weave a story for the listener with notes alone.[4] Likewise, great paintings often feel alive, almost moving, communicating stories about what lies within the confines of their frames. Neither of these media, however, are overtly narrative in nature. Their stories are markedly lacking in specificity of A) plot and/or B) character. For example, Grant Wood’s American Gothic communicates something to the viewer of the nature of his two subjects, and even something of their situation, but there is no movement, no action, no plot to the painting alone. Similarly, music can be emotionally affective in a way that resembles plot through its use of elements like tempo, time signature, and key, but character is utterly lacking. At an intuitive level, we can discern a difference between forms such as music, painting, sculpture, etc. and traditionally narrative forms such as novels, films, and plays.

This divide, however, is not a hard and fast one. I freely admit that to say something is “narrative” often involves a subjective evaluation. Poetry provides a great example of this. Some poetry is rather devoid of character and plot, whereas some is full of it (as with epics like Beowulf and The Odyssey). Many poems find a middle ground, where the main way they communicate the story is through emotional affectation, but they do have distinctive (if not wholly developed) elements of plot and character. This reflects the fact that while my study is focused primarily on wholly narrative forms, the approach I am employing is applicable to a much wider range of storytelling media.

Written Components

From there, I limit by giving particular attention to the written component of these storytelling forms. For example: film is a visual medium. Its stories are told through moving images as opposed to, say, the narratorial exposition of a book (not to say, of course, that movies cannot have narrators, but their voice is, at the least, far less prevalent than that of a narrator in a novel). In film, though, the screenplay is the written representation of what will be visually expressed. A good screenwriter is able to pre-visualize the film and record these images in the screenplay format. Likewise, theatrical performances have scripts and video games have design documents. For any of these examples, an understanding of the way storytelling functions within the medium as a whole is essential to the production its written component. As discussed above, a Craft approach necessarily includes a practical component. I have chosen to focus on a written component both because it is a linking element among forms (insights in one form can more easily be expressed in another) and because, as a writer, this is where my particular interest lies.

Fiction

The final bound to my investigation is that I am focused primarily on fiction. This includes everything from realism to historical fiction to sci-fi, but excludes forms of storytelling like the creative nonfiction essay. There is little behind this other than personal bent, but it does serve to limit my study in a productive way without limiting the variety of kinds of stories I am looking at.

Why Study Multiple Forms?

I touched briefly upon this subject in my introduction, but I return to it here to discuss the subject in more detail and to provide a few examples illustrating the importance of this integrative basis for my Craft approach. To reiterate what has already been said, the methods of study I have outlined could easily be confined to a specific form of storytelling, such as short fiction. Indeed, it could be argued that limiting the scope could improve the practical efficacy of my study. However, the stated goal of this study is not mastery of a given form; while I enjoy the practical element my study affords, this is not a BFA degree. Furthermore, I firmly believe that a view of storytelling that is most complete is only achievable through the synthesis of insights from a wide variety of storytelling forms.

Although the active, conscious practice of applying insights across forms is not particularly widespread, I am not alone in believing in the importance of such an approach. Trent Hergenrader, PhD student and teacher of undergraduate creative writing classes at the University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee), as well as a panelist on for the “Writing Games: Gaming, Digitality, and Creative Writing Pedagogy” panel at the 2012 AWP Conference in Chicago, is applying a similar tact in both his teaching and his doctoral coursework. Hergenrader uses the role playing game (RPG) Fallout 3 to aid in his class’s exploration of story elements like character. Because a key principle of game design is player agency, says Hergenrader, traditional modes of literary criticism fail when applied to games. A designer must plan a story (or stories) that account for a wide variety of player actions and attitudes. Therefore, game design provides a unique perspective on character traits and motivations. In a game like Fallout 3, the player is given a finite number of “points” to spend on an array of character traits. The player is forced to choose proficiency in a few of these traits to the exclusion of others, much like a prose writer creating a character within his story. No one is good at everything; every good character has both strengths and weaknesses. But game design helps us imagine a character as he could be in a number of different circumstances. Similarly, in an RPG the player is given choice that affects the story. Translating to fiction, if we then think of our characters as able to make any choice, rather than whatever is convenient for the plot, we are forced to take a closer look at the character’s motivations. What choice would they make, based on their traits and journey thus far? Have we written the character such that the choice they make is the only logical one for that character? (Hergenrader “Build”) (Hergenrader “Writing”).

Conclusion

The opening line of his essay “On Stories,” C.S. Lewis says, “It is astonishing how little attention critics have paid to Story considered in itself.” (Lewis 3). This paper has been an attempt to contribute to the mass of work trying to rectify that oversight. Part of the challenge here has been to relate an education that has been largely experiential in logically traceable means. Intuition is important in deciding what is good telling and what is not, and it only gained by spending time with stories. For all the mechanical emphasis of the Craft approach which I have attempted to lay out, stories remain mysterious entities, and we lose something essential when we suppose otherwise. Storytelling is magic. We “spell” out words, images, and sounds in feeble attempts to touch the human soul. Few storytellers are true wizards of their craft, able to freely mold these forms to their will. But even the poorest of alchemists has the potential to strike gold.

Telling stories is a craft, a skill which can be practiced and honed. I have tried in this paper to pull back the curtain and reveal what pulls the levers insofar as I understand it. We need more critical engagement with stories, challenging past suppositions and integrating new ways of thinking provided by a variety of storytelling forms. There’s a saying that it’s all been done before. To some extent, this is certainly true. Archetypes and plots repeat through time. Disparate civilizations have shockingly similar myths. But this should not be a discouragement to storytellers; rather, it should be a drive forward. It should be a challenge to find the best recombination of these elements, the best telling that the particular story has ever been treated with. It is my dearest hope that this paper can be part of a meaningful conversation informing how this might be done, and can offer a framework on which to build a better exploration of how stories are told. People have been telling stories as long as there’s been someone to listen. Stories welcome strangers, inviting them to experience alien walks of life. Stories bind people together into community

In the words of poet Shel Silverstein:

“If you are a dreamer, come in.

If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,

A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…

If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire,

For we have some flax golden tales to spin.

Come in!

Come in!” (Silverstein)


[1] For example, as I have previously written regarding pages 20-21 of Collingwood’s argument:

“As a control for the first section, Collingwood uses the creation and application of horseshoes, to compare to poetry, his test case. He says that the end of a poem is a certain state of mind in the audience. He provides no support for this theory of poetry (which I have serious reservations about), but even supposing it is right, Collingwood’s comparison is flawed. First, while the ‘recipient’ a poem would be the listener or reader, the recipient of a horse being shod is the horse. The owner in Collingwood’s example is a third party to which poetry has no corollary. Collingwood is comparing disparate parts.

Furthermore, Collingwood says that unlike the means of forging iron to which the end is a horseshoe, there are no specific means by which a poem is the end. He suggests that it is therefore preposterous to consider poetry a craft, for what blacksmith could “make a horseshoe by sheer labour, without forge, anvil, hammer, or tongs.” (20-21). This metaphor is thoroughly unconvincing…Collingwood flippantly dismisses writing, metrical composition, application of theory and practice, etc. as legitimate means without due consideration.”

[2] Good criticism also requires practice of the craft of criticism, but this is a fundamentally different sort of craft than the craft of storytelling, like the difference between baking and sculpture. Thus, a discussion of the craft of criticism falls outside the purview of this paper.

[3] This is not to deny the capacity of discursive forms for entertainment. See, for example, the web show Extra Credits (http://extra-credits.net/) a weekly show that critically analyzes video games and the game industry. The show is undeniably entertaining, but is not sustainably engaging if the viewer does not have an interest in video games.

[4] Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 4 is a fantastic example of this.

 

Works Cited

Bradbury, Ray. Interview with Sam Weller. The Art of Fiction No. 203. Paris Review, 2012. Web. 22 April 2012.

Card, Orson Scott. Interview with Moira Allen. “On Religion in SF and Fantasy: An Interview with Orson Scott Card.” Writing-World.com. Moira Allen, 2000. Web. 24 April 2012.

Cast Away. Dir. Robert Zemeckis. Perf. Tom Hanks. Twentieth Century Fox, 2000. DVD.

Collingwood, R.G. “Art and Craft.” The Principles of Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1938. 15-41. Print.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2008. Print.

Field, Syd. Screenplay. Revised Ed. New York: Random House, 2005. Print.

Hemingway, Ernest. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” The Short Stories. New York: Scribner, 1997. Print.

Hergenrader, Trent. “Build Me a World: World Building and Emergent/Environmental Storytelling in the Creative Writing Classroom.” AWP Conference. 2 March 2012. Prezi presentation. 24 April 2012. http://prezi.com/4bi681hkiviz/build-me-a-world-world-building-and-emergent-environmental-storytelling-in-the-creative-writing-classroom/

—. “Writing Games: Gaming, Digitality, and Creative Writing Pedagogy.” AWP Conference. Hilton Chicago, Chicago, IL. 2 March 2012.

Hugo, Victor. Les Miserables. Trans. Charles E. Wilbour. New York: Random House Modern Library, 1992.

“instruct.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2012. Web. 26 April 2012.

Lewis, C.S. Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 1966. Print.

McCarthy, Cormac. The Crossing. New York: Vintage Books, 1994. Print.

Orwell, George. “Why I Write.” The Orwell Reader. Ed. Richard H. Rovere. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1956. 390-396. Print.

“Pilot.” The West Wing: The Complete First Season. Writ. Aaron Sorkin. Warner Brothers, 1999. DVD.

Russo, Richard. Introduction. The Best American Short Stories 2010. Ed. Russo and Heidi Pitlor. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. xiii-xix. Print.

Silverstein, Shel. “I.” A Light in the Attic. New York: Harper Collins, 1981.

Shepherd, Jim. “The Netherlands Lives With Water.” The Best American Short Stories 2010. Ed. Richard Russo and Heidi Pitlor. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. Print.

“story.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2012. Web. 26 April 2012.

The Day After Tomorrow. Dir. Roland Emmerich. Perf. Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal. Twentieth Century Fox, 2004. DVD.

Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. 3rd ed. Chelsea: Sheridan Books, 2007. Print.

 

Pleasantly Tired…

Whew. At the time of writing, I’m almost through with Day 2 (there’s a reception I’m going to go to in a little while, but all the panels are over for the day), and this is the first break I’ve really had besides a few hours sleep since 6:15 yesterday morning. AWP is exhausting!

But a lot of fun, too. I’ve been to a bunch of panels, the massive book fair, and the keynote address by Margaret Atwood. I’ve taken copious notes on everything, and I promise I’ll be sharing the content of those panels with you soon (there’s some really good stuff). But I want to be sure I do them justice, and that takes time I don’t have at this particular moment.

So those conference impressions and panel reports are coming. It’s just probably going to be Sunday or Monday before I can start getting to them.

AWP, Here I Come

Today was the beginning of check-in for the annual AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference, which runs tomorrow through Saturday. It’s basically a big convention for people to talk about a myriad of issues and topics relating to creative writing. This year it’s in Chicago, so I get to go. And I am psyched!

Events run pretty much all day for the next three days. No, actually that doesn’t begin to properly describe it. For each of the time slots throughout the day, there are probably an average of 15-20 different panels, topic discussions, and readings to choose from, not to mention a huge book fair that runs the entire time. At most times, there are at least two panels that I’d like to be at.

To share the experience, not to mention process it for myself, I’m going to try to blog about each panel at some point over the next several days. If you’re not going to the conference yourself, hopefully this is a way you can get a little taste of it. I can’t promise that it’s all going to come in day-in-review form, although I’ll shoot for that, but I think that at least within the week I’ll be able to give a brief retrospective on each panel I attend, as well as an overview of the conference as a whole.

Should be an adventure!

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