It’s all about stories


I love being a modern human. We tell stories in all sorts of interesting ways – film, theatre, books, blogs, roleplay, music, the list goes on and on. Okay, so maybe we’ve lost the whole ‘sitting round the fire talking’ thing a bit, but you can still do that if you want to. Stories are something of an obsession of mine, dating right back to the days when Dad read me The Hobbit during a summer holiday spent in an old-fashioned (and probably never real) gypsy caravan.

Recently my raptor and I went to see the acclaimed The Artist, which revealed how story-telling in cinema can be – and once was – interactive. The story is much more simple than a modern film, because it takes longer to get the point across, but what was interesting was how the audience got involved. Firstly, you had to concentrate more: there were no verbal clues, and no pointless summaries for those that may have dozed off in the middle, so you were instantly more engaged in what was going on. More importantly, however, was the feeling of community that silence created. You could hear other people reacting – you knew when an individual somewhere in the room was amused, or upset, or surprised, because there were no crashing powerchords or improbable explosions drowning that out. It was curiously sociable, given that everyone was sitting in a dark room all facing the same way and not talking for a couple of hours. I found it fascinating. (The raptor complained that 1920s men got to dress better than modern men. I pointed out that he could wear spats any time he liked.)

Sometimes I wonder if other animals tell stories too. If they don’t, how do they communicate? Because, if you break it right down, every form of human communication is based around telling a story. If it isn’t, we just don’t get what the other person is trying to say. Dogs dream, as evidenced by marginally hilarious youTube videos, so do they also daydream? What about elephants, or dolphins, or apes? What would their stories be about?

There’s an interesting book called The Seven Basic Plots, which says that all stories can be broken down into… well, the clue’s in the title, really. The seven in question are: the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy, and rebirth. Quite apart from having two of those categories as the impossibly broad ‘comedy’ and ‘tragedy’, I find it hard to cram all the bajillions of literature, films, music and so on from all human history into just seven types of stories without a fairly impressive crowbar. Yet the concept of Archetypal plot cycles and characters has quite a lot of traction. Does that improve story telling, by highlighting the basics and allowing us to explore their boundaries in more depth, or does it hamper it by pigeon-holing?

I wonder what stories pigeons tell…

And finally, the question of lit crit. This used to irritate me during English class at school – what if the author hadn’t put his words together with the intention of them being dissected and cross-examined for hidden meanings? (That we were studying William Blake at the time did not give my argument weight, I grant you.) But now that I’ve done more writing of my own, I think I’d be delighted if someone found a cool hidden meaning in my work. Especially if I hadn’t put it there on purpose.

I’m rambling now. Time to stop.


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