story

On Stories

...the idea is that you kind of look reality straight in the face, you know - doesn't matter how ugly it is - and you try to find humanity in it. You try to find beauty in it. You try to find hope in it. So you cannot beautify it. But at the same time, you should find these tiny things that - you know, that would make, sometimes, a very violent and unhappy occasion still human and emotional.

~ Etgar Keret, in his great interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air

55b

In the 1950s, for example, German researchers noticed a patch on the side of the brain in which neurons had little myelin, compared with neighboring regions. But the finding was soon neglected.

“People tended to ignore it, and it was lost in the literature,” said Dr. Van Essen.

The computer rediscovered the odd territory, and Dr. Van Essen and his colleagues found that it becomes unusually active when people listen to stories. That finding suggests the region, which they call 55b, is part of a language network in the brain

~ Updated Brain Map

The greatest gift

Judd Apatow: Yea, and switching modes forces you to really slow down and think things through. Because you go through life in a haze, staring at your phone and watching The Bachelor and being reasonably happy, but you never really break it down. You never stop to think about what’s going on in your mind and what you’re struggling with. Early on, someone said to me, “The greatest gift you can give is your story,” and that, for me, was the turning point. That became the premise of my work. That’s when I realized that maybe the things that I think are boring about myself are interesting to other people. Hearing what’s in your mind truly makes people feel less alone and gives them hope for things that they want to do and get through things that are difficult.

~ Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow

Conquering Fear - A Formula

I really like this formula for conquering fear :

1. awaken desire

"Before this desire was kindled, language had lost its power because the people were rendered stone-deaf by fear. But, in this aroused, anticipatory state, their ears open up. Their mouths become looser. From a state of being cramped up in terror, there is a moment of relaxing. The 18th-century thinker Rabbi Nachman of Breslov wrote that romantic desire clears the throat."

2. tell/write your story

"Storytelling becomes central to conquering fear. It’s a way of naming and making sense of fear and imagining different routes out. Storytellers expand the consciousness, waken the sleeping self and give their hearers the words and motifs to use for themselves.... Stories create new ways of seeing, which lead to new ways of feeling and thinking. "

3. sing

"They are singing in defiance of terror....The song produces energy and spiritual generosity. Borrowing from Oliver Sacks, Zornberg writes that the people have become “unmusicked” by fear and pain. They have to become “remusicked."

"Eventually, the Israelites are able to cope with fear. This makes them capable of loving and being loved....We’re always told to confront our fears. Take them head-on. But, in the sophisticated psychology of Exodus, fears are confronted obliquely and happily, through sexiness, storytelling and song."

 

 

Our Stories

The stories we tell ourselves can be stubbornly resistant to change. Case in point: a recent story by Michael Lewis for This American Life.  

 "These stories we tell about ourselves-- they're almost like our infrastructure, like railroads or highways. We can build them almost any way we want to. But once they're in place, this whole inner landscape grows up around them. So maybe the point here is that you should be careful about how you tell your story, or at least conscious of it. Because once you've told it, once you've built the highway, it's just very hard to move it. Even if your story is about an angel who came out of nowhere and saved your life, even then, not even the angel herself can change it."  ~Michael Lewis

 

Data and Movies

Even movie scripts can't escape the data analysis trend. Mr. Bruzzese of Motion Picture Group, a former statistics professor, analyzes scripts for movie studios. He relies on statistics and survey results of other movies. His findings show things like bowling scenes are present in movies that flop, so best to avoid them.

He doesn't currently use algorithms but I think it's only a matter of time.

How to be a Better Storyteller

Howard Suber, UCLA, in an interview on Bakadesuyo.com. Using Stories To Guide Our Lives

Eric:

Do you think that storytelling is always after the fact, that it’s how we interpret our lives, or do you think there’s something to learn from stories and the principles of dramatic structure that’s forward-looking, that we can use to guide our lives?

Howard:

That’s an excellent question. Every so often in my personal life with friends, I’ll have somebody who will be telling me, it’s usually over a meal, about they’re in a relationship, and it’s in trouble and this trouble has been going on for some time, often years, and it’s now heading for a crisis. And it’s one of those things where you know sort of, even though they don’t verbalize it, they’re asking, “What do you think? What do you think I should do?”

And after listening to the narrative for a while, every so often, I’ll say, “What movie are you living now?” And it always produces the same response. The person is startled because it sounds initially like a trivial question. They’re usually telling the story with considerable agony, and so they kind of freeze like a deer. And then their eyes rotate, usually upwards to the right, which is where a lot of people go when they’re searching their memory bank, and then they’ll laugh.

That’s the important point of this, and they’ll laugh and say, “The Exorcist,” or something like that. And the laugh is a sign of recognition that the story they’ve been telling me has a recognizable structure, and once they give me that, they then usually laugh again and say something like, “Oh, my God.” I then say, as quietly as I can, “And where does the story go?” And that’s the advice I’ve given them.

 

On Coaching

"...he already knew he could coach. All you had to do was look at at each of your players and ask yourself: What story does this guy wish someone would tell him about himself? And then you told the guy that story. You told it with a hint of doom. You included his flaws. You emphasized the obstacles that could prevent him from succeeding. That was what made the story epic: the player, the hero, had to suffer mightily en route to his final triumph. Schwartz knew that people loved to suffer, as long as the suffering made sense. Everybody suffered. The key was to choose the form of your suffering. Most people couldn't do this alone; they need a coach. A good coach made you suffer in a way that suited you. A bad coach made everyone suffer in the same way, and so was more like a torturer." The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

How to Tell a Story

Who better to learn from than a Pixar storyboard artist? This list comes from Emma Coats. Some highlights:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.

#22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Are You Happy?

Daniel Kahneman, the inventor of behavioral economics, says it's all about who you are talking to - your experiencing self or your remembering self. The experiencing self is all about the present moment while the remembering self is the story teller. The trick is we don't actually choose between experiences but we do choose between memories. Which has me thinking more about my recent memoir writing class.

Check out his TED talk here:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgRlrBl-7Yg[/youtube]