Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Monday, May 12, 2008

Telling Stories

Sorry about last week. Life was intruding, I was getting way too little sleep, and just generally feeling bleh. Since I finally got a good night's sleep, I'm feeling way better today. Way.

Anyway, I was laying in bed last night and my brain was whirring like a supercomputer when I thought of the idea for today's blog post. (And I even remembered it this morning!) Before there was the printed word, man told each other stories. Oog made up a scary story and told it to his fellow neandrathals around the camp fire. Igg made up a sweet story and told it to her children before she tucked them under their mammoth skin blanket. Ubu thought up a funny story and told it to his hunting buddies while they were stalking through the underbrush (which unfortunately got him eaten when his friends' laughter woke up a sabertooth, but I digress).

Those are our occupational ancestors.

What writers do is make up stories to tell to other people. Sure, we do it on paper, or on a computer screen, but at the most basic level, we really aren't any different than those ancient storytellers. We have to go through a whole lot more to get our stories in front of people, to be sure, but the essence is still there.

When I was a child, I didn't have anybody to tell stories to. (Yes, I have a huge family, but I was the youngest, and who wants to listen to a baby when there are real books available.) Instead, I told stories to myself. I had a wildly imaginative and exciting fantasy life. I was the queen of a warrior tribe whose territory stretched the boundaries of my bedroom walls; I was a great explorer with whole nations to discover in my backyard. I was Oog and Igg and even Ubu, telling stories to my clan. (Me and my dog were the whole clan, but it worked for us.)

Looking at what I do now, it's pretty much the same. I'm still telling myself stories. They're nowhere near as weird as they were when I was a child, and they aren't based on someone else's world either. (Would I be too much of a geek to admit some of my own stories were based on MadMax and Battlestar Gallactica and Star Trek?) Now I'm telling stories that are entirely my own, and I'm telling them in the hopes that someday the rest of the world can know my stories, too.

Sure there are differences between what I do now and the storytellers of old. They never had to query, edit, or synopsize. But in all the essential ways, it's the same process. Oog had a goal to share his story with his people, to make them scream or jump or have nightmares. Igg wanted to share hers with her children so they would sleep and be happy. Ubu just wanted to make people laugh (though in hindsight, he probably should've waited until they were safe at home). Each of them perfected their stories to get the desired results (okay, Ubu maybe perfected too much).

In the end, isn't that what writers do?

So, as you sit down to tell your story, think of the storytellers who went before, and remember to tell yours in the best way possible for your audience. If you're unpublished like me, your audience is out there waiting to hear it.

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