Mechanism of Storytelling Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :


Human beings are naturally predisposed to hear, to remember, and to tell stories. The problem -- for teachers, parents, government leaders, friends, and computers -- is to have more interesting stories to tell. (Schank, pg. 243)

The art of storytelling extends back into the earliest years of human development, when tales were passed from one generation to another and one group to another even before the advent of written language. Some imaginative people began telling stories of events that happened to them, maybe on a hunt or with some other happening. They found that the reaction to these tales was greater if they elaborated and emotionally impacted the listeners. No story would do. Storytelling had to be well thought out and structured to affect others. Over the centuries, such people evolved into the best storytellers. They became some of the most influential and powerful people in history.

Children often play a storytelling game. Everyone sits in a circle and one of the boys or girls starts off the tale, "Once upon a time." The next person adds to the story and so on around to the last child. Normally, the story has a very strange plot if any at all. None of the children have time to think the whole story out. This form of story creation is usually fun. The children laugh at the foolish plot and ending. Throughout the course of human development, the well-known storytellers realized that their creative output could not be like this children's game -- random thoughts put together in a hit-or-miss fashion. If they did so, their storytelling would not provide the effect they wanted to elicit in others. This has been the case from the earliest verbal stories until modern times with short stories, books, plays and movies. If the product does not have overall structure and import, it becomes meaningless and forgotten.

The earliest storytellers recognized if they used their imagination they could embellish their stories with fanciful fabrications. This gave them a sense of power. They could dominate people just by their storytelling. They could frighten them with their stories or urge them to take positive actions. They could influence them to do their bidding, either good or bad. (Vogler). As a result, storytellers became very important societal members.

The storytellers began relating tales about supernatural beings that had special powers to control certain phenomena. The tales explained natural occurrences such as thunder and lightning people did not understand. These stories were passed on from generation to generation, embroidered and changed over the years. They became the great myths of the tribes. The storytellers gave credence to their cultures' myths, superstitions, rituals, morals, traditions, rules, and religions from the concepts that individuals had experienced or imagined in their minds (Vogler).

Joseph Campbell's 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, methodically describes how such myths developed and are based on the psychological needs of the listeners and readers. His excellent step-by-step "how to" on the overall structure to storytelling and myth creation is so knowledgeable that it has made a major impact on writing and even moviemaking. Filmmakers like John Boorman, George Miller, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have noted they used the Campbell's ageless storytelling pattern Campbell. With these analytical tools one can compose a story to meet any situation, which will be dramatic, entertaining, and psychologically true.

Campbell argues that all storytelling, consciously or not, can be understood in terms of the hero myth or monomyth. The Hero with a Thousand Faces is based on psychologist Carl Jung's idea of archetypes, characters who occur in the dreams and the myths of all cultures. Jung believed that these archetypes are reflections of the human mind to play out life's dramas. Characters of the hero myth, such as the young hero, the wise old man, the magical woman, and the shadowy enemy, are identical with the archetypes of the human mind, as shown in dreams. That is why myths and stories constructed on the mythological model are always psychologically true. Such tales are actual models of the workings of the human mind, realistic maps of the psyche (pg. 17). They are psychologically valid even when portraying fantastic, impossible, unreal events. George Lucas carefully followed Campbell's approach when storytelling, in his case scriptwriting, "Star Wars."

Stories built on the model or stages that Campbell describes have an appeal that can be felt by everyone, because they spring from a universal source in the collective unconscious and reflect universal concerns. Vogler explains Campbell's stages of the hero in modern-day terms occur in this order: 1) The hero is introduced in his ordinary world. In "Star Wars" Luke Skywalker is a common farmboy before he takes on the universe; 2) The call to adventure. The hero is presented with a challenge, such as Arthur and the Holy Grail and Luke's message from Princess Leia; 3) The hero is reluctant at first. The hero shows fear of the unknown and going on adventure. Luke refuses Obi Wan's call to action, but when the farm is destroyed by the Emperor's stormtroopers, he becomes eager to join in the fight; 4) The hero is encouraged by a wise old man or woman. However, the mentor can only help so much. Soon the hero knows it will be necessary to go on alone. This develops characters such as Merlin or Obi Wan Kanobi; 5) The hero passes the first threshold. The first semi-adventure is begun in unknown lands or in space. 6) The hero encounters tests and helpers. Luke learns about the Force. 7) The hero reaches the innermost cave. In mythology, this perhaps was a decent into hell or in a cave to fight the dragon. In "Star Wars," Luke is drawn into the death star; 8) The hero endures the supreme ordeal and perhaps even appears to die and is reborn. Luke is pulled down under by the monster. 9) The hero seizes the sword. The story is resolved: The dragon is slain, the grail found, Luke reconciles with his father. 10) The road back. The story continues as the hero is followed by enemies. Luke has a chase scene from the inhabitants of the death star. 11) Resurrection. The hero leaves the other world a different entity. Luke is transformed by the Force; 12) Return with the Elixir. The hero returns with the Holy Grail, the cure, a special lesson.

Campbell's storytelling model provides on example of how a tale is structured. Other modern-day storytellers have different approaches to developing their works. Robert McKee, who has won numerous Oscars, Emmy awards, Writers Guild of America awards and Directors Guild of America awards, hosts a series of scriptwriting classes. He repeatedly stresses if the script is not finished in pre-production, there is little to no chance that it ever will be. More likely, the story will be even more compromised during filming. In fact, he says, it is easy to recognize such films. By the middle of the movie, the audience is completely lost and trying to find rhyme or reason to the plot.

In his book Story, McKee argues that writers need to put aside time to learn story structure. There is nothing more upsetting for students than the teacher who says they must now write creatively, as if children or any person can automatically be creative. Writing does not work like that. Scriptwriters need time and space to think and to develop ideas. More so, they need guidelines and structure.

In his coursework, McKee offers a list of principles involved with successful scriptwriting/storytelling. The first factor is not relying on what others have learned about a topic, but researching it oneself. Many scriptwriters use the same stereotypes and cliches repeatedly when developing their communication vehicles. Movies then have very obvious plots and endings. He points out that "8-Mile" was guilty of this as seen by the boring and expected ending. The reason, he continues, is that "the writer does not know the world of his story ... They crib scenes we've seen before, paraphrase dialogue we've heard before, disguise characters we've met before and pass them off as their own." (pg. 67) Knowledge of the world is crucial to the achievement of original work. The setting is many layered with period, duration, location and level of conflict.

McKee also addresses genre. Whether the writers feel most attached to horror, romance or adventure, they must watch and read as many movies and scripts in that genre as possible. "The Blair Witch Project" authors viewed all of the horror films they could find to help them understand the setting for their ideas. Writers must learn the codes and conventions of their genre: "Break each film down into setting, role, event and value ... Be honest in your choice of genre, for of all the reasons for wanting to write, the only one that nurtures us through time is love of the work itself." (pg. 99)

Similarly, how does one offer honest portrayal of characters?…

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