Individual or traditional – Breaking the mould

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Blazing your own trail can be rewarding, but comes with risks. Photo by David Valuja via Pexels (bit.ly/davidvaluja)

If you read enough—screenplays, novels, articles, poetry—your mind can go numb to the sameness of storytelling, whether in subject, structure, narrative style or innumerable facets you no longer see.

As a storyteller, I dread the idea that my work falls into that category, and yet I know some of it does.

The urge, therefore, is to come up with ways to surprise the reader, to give their eyes, minds and souls something they have never experienced before.

We are creatives, so why should we not be creative?

How can I shake things up in my storytelling to dazzle the reader?

What if my characters all spoke in limericks? What if I wrote my action descriptions as music? What if I named my characters using the military alphabet (see M*A*S*H)?

Yeah, what if you did any of those things?

 

Novelty and expectation

The biggest challenge in going with your own style is that it absolutely has to work. There is no middle ground.

Out of the gate, you are going to piss off traditionalists: 1) they expect to read things in a certain way and don’t embrace change easily; and 2) they see your decision not as innovative, but rather as the act of a storyteller wrapped up in his or her ego.

Who are you to think of yourself as above the law?

(Very melodramatic, these traditionalists.)

Even with readers willing to go on a ride, however, you’re going to need to prove that your method is worth the effort, that it brings something to the storytelling experience that a more traditional approach does not or cannot.

In a recent Go Into The Story blog post, Scott Myers looks at how the writers of Wall-E used a very unconventional, almost poetic style for their scene descriptions. Offering examples from the screenplay, Myers shows how simplifying the descriptions allowed the writers to focus on what the heart felt rather than what the eye saw. In the process, they created a very fluid and impactful read.

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Descriptions more poetry than prose. (Wall-E, written by Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon)

Up for the challenge?

So, should you rush back to your manuscript and do the same thing? Or do an equivalent that best suits your specific narrative?

The answer to those two questions is unfortunately two other questions.

Is there an appropriate equivalent? And can you pull it off?

Even if there is an alternative way to present your story, you may not yet be ready to effectively execute it.

Your writing skills may yet require some seasoning until you can effectively pull off non-traditional approaches to storytelling.

Alternatively, you may be approaching this challenge with the wrong (I hate to use that word) mindset; that you’re seeking novelty for the sake of novelty and not because it will enhance the power of your story.

That said, if you really want to try something new, if you really want to challenge yourself, then go for it.

 

Go for it

Nothing is permanent. Versions can be saved. You can always retell the story in a more traditional manner.

Even if it doesn’t work, you have improved your storytelling skills for the experience.

And ultimately, to counter my earlier point about others’ reactions, most of us tell stories because we have a passion for storytelling. The business of storytelling is secondary.

I welcome and encourage you to continue to explore that passion, both for your own happiness and because that is how you will create the truly remarkable.

 

To learn more about effective storytelling, as well as the power of story analysis and story coaching, visit:

So, What’s Your Story? (web site)

So, What’s Your Story? (Facebook)

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Blood red poppies

Remembrance Day

Every year, as October transitions into November, I go in search of a new red poppy pin in honour of Remembrance Day on November 11. It is a tradition in my family and across Canada to append the crimson flower to our lapel as a reminder of the bloody sacrifices made a century ago.

I also wear it to honour my great-grandfather Francis Sowden, who came home from the Great War, unlike so many others, including siblings on my great-grandmother’s side who are sadly just names without faces to me so many years later.

I am one of few in my generation to have known Francis Sowden.

I am one of few in my generation to have known Francis Sowden.

Recently, I have heard people complain that the commemorative symbol of the poppy has been co-opted by those who want to hail it as a symbol of the glory of serving in the military, if not actually the glory of war itself. This bothers me.

I greatly thank all those who have, do and will serve in the military both in Canada and abroad, many risking their lives to keep others safe. Although I was an unthinking idiot in my youth, I have learned that these people, while frail humans, are noble titans who see conflict as a last resort.

For all that nobility, however, the poppy must remain a separate symbol.

A painting from the Royal Ontario Museum that haunts my dreams. (sadly, I cannot remember artist)

A painting from the Royal Ontario Museum that haunts my dreams. (sadly, I cannot remember artist)

The poppy reminds us of the horrific toll of war. It is a crimson stain upon our lapels that taints us all and reminds us of the fragility of the peace that surrounds us. The bloody hue taunts our civilized smugness with a warning of how easily we can fall into the pit of violence, whether as individuals, communities or countries.

While we wear the blood red poppy to honour the fallen of World War I, we also wear it as a badge of shame that the war ever took place, and that the war to end all wars wasn’t.

This dual purpose must never be diminished. We must strive to be better.

And next year, as October transitions into November, I will go in search of a new red poppy pin in honour of Remembrance Day on November 11.

I will never forget.

A cemetery near my home reminds me of the sacrifices

A cemetery near my home reminds me of the sacrifices

Holiday Dinner at the Royal York

As much as it pains many people I know, for the last four years, I have spent my Christmas dinner at a local hotel, The Fairmont Royal York in Toronto. The splendid buffet is held in the hotel’s Imperial Room, a small hall that once hosted musical legends (back in the day when you dressed up to go to a show).

For the first two years, I went with my wife Leela, whereas more recently, I have been sitting on my own (interestingly at the same table). That being said, when you’re surrounded by dozens of families, a troupe of carolers, a balloon artist and Santa Claus, are you truly alone?

The lesson I learned this year: Don’t watch people (adults as well as kids) use the chocolate fountain…you’re better off not knowing.

Lest we forget: Thanking the fallen

Remembrance Day Poppy

On November 11th in Canada, we take a moment out of our day at 11am to remember those who have fallen in war to define and defend our rights and freedoms as a nation and a people. We call it Remembrance Day and in the British tradition, we symbolize it with a poppy.

I am of the fortunate age that while I never had to experience the terror of war myself, I am old enough to have spoken with many of my family members who have served in the Canadian military both in times of war and in times of peace.

My great grandfather Francis Sowden served in the First World War, the war whose Armistice Day we commemorate. My grandfather Allan Eby served in the Second World War as part of the Canadian forces that invaded Italy and freed the region from Nazi occupation. Similarly, my great uncles served in the military, one making it his career.

Each man had his own experiences. Each man could relate his own stories.

I remember fondly, when I grew old enough to understand, listening to my grandfather relate his experiences; in some ways, his greatest days and in others, his worst. In his own gentle way, he taught a brash young know-it-all with all the answers on the failure of war a thing or two about life and the need to defend freedom when called upon.

Beloved and missed

As I visited my grandparents’ gravesite the other day, I came upon the graves of several other soldiers, their tombstones clearly marked, their ranks smartly inscribed. And I stopped for a moment to thank them for their sacrifices.

It was only then that I noticed a monument atop a hill, something I had never seen before, that paid homage to the fallen. A soldier with bowed head. Very humbling.

To the men and women who sacrificed everything for my home, I thank you.

To the men and women who served bravely or waited nervously for family members to return home, I thank you.

To my friends who continue to serve for Canada or any other country, I thank you.

As long as I am alive, your story will not go unheard or unremembered.