Thursday, June 10, 2010

Don't be afraid to tell your stories

Jason Arnopp's posted some interesting thoughts about giving yourself time and space for thinking about your stories. I can happily spend months, even years getting a story right before committing too much to paper. I love letting my subconscious do the heavy lifting. But there's one part of Jason's post with which I disagree:
It's not for nothing that current Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat prefers not to tell anyone about his ideas until he's writing them - the reactions of others, even if it's a qualified enthusiasm, can blow some of the magic dust away. "It's so important," he told me in an interview for Doctor Who Magazine in 2008, "the magic of Not Telling Anyone Yet. I know Russell [T Davies] thinks that way too – he won’t tell anybody what he’s doing. Because it turns to ashes in your mouth. It almost becomes ordinary.”
And this is where we differ. I love telling my stories to anyone daft enough to listen. I don't do it the moment a story idea pops into my head, I let it fester there for a while. But once I've got the tale by the tiger, I start talking about it. The root of all writing is storytelling after all, seeking to entertain and make sense of our lives.

Talking a story out loud helps me find new corners and surprises, gets me thinking on my feet, forces me to find the best way of communicating my story to an audience. If I'm excited about a story, I want to share it. And there's nothing like the instant feedback of somebody smiling or nodding or going "oooh!" at the appropriate moment. You're on to something.

So give yourselves time to think and ponder, your stories room to deepen and develop. But don't be afraid of telling your stories out loud. That's what writers do. If your idea's so fragile it can't be told yet, maybe it isn't strong enough to sustain a story. I guess it's about choosing the moment your story's ready to be told. Onwards!


Jason Arnopp said...

Cor - a soupcon of debate, back in the scribosphere! Good work, Sir.

In truth, though, there probably isn't too much to debate: it's down to personal preference, isn't it? I'm not into verbal storytelling - I can do it when I have to, but aren't naturally drawn to it. Never have been. In fact, nine times out of 10, I'll mentally zone out when someone starts to tell me their stories.

I can absolutely see the benefits of having to get a story straight in your head in order to verbally tell it, but to a large extent I get much the same results through writing a treatment. When it comes to the 'ooh' reaction factor, I get that from telling my logline to a few folk, to see if it gets the desired response.

An interesting topic, Lord Bishop. We shall tell the tale of this thread to our grandchildren one day. Me via text, you via oration.

Tom Murphy said...

Sorry David, but I'm on Team Jason when it comes to hammering away at my stories behind closed mental doors (and don't tell me you haven't got the t-shirts already printed up, Jason).

In a deft metaphor switch, I probably think of my stories as sensitive plants that need to be nursed in a controlled environment until they become strong enough to be exposed to the harsh elements.

(Although I do conduct a strange dialogue with myself on paper when I'm developing stuff - ie, literally asking myself questions and replying, like the transcript of an interview)

In fact, even after 20 years together I've still got a terrible phobia about telling Wifelet anything about what I'm writing, in case she thinks it's rubbish and decides to leave me as a result!


Interesting. My better half's often the first person to hear my stories. Each to their own, I guess...

Sally A said...

It's a mixture innit? I can usually work out if there's a problem with the story if someone zones out or doesn't get it. But also there's nothing better than pitching it (verbally) everyone getting excited and helping you develop it. I do lots of continuing drama and pretty much have to verbally sell every story first. My own original stuff - oo that's hard. But I like to share bits of it to test it, must say.

I used to believe that if you told a story verbally then you didn't need to write it - but changed my mind on that now.

I would imagine for Doctor Who though that you want to keep the cat in the bag for as long as possible.

That didn't help in a debate though did it? Saying it's a compromise? I should have accused Jason of being a cur, a damn cur! Or slapped David around a bit with a few similes...

Sally stands looking aggressive - You wanna tell stories? You tell 'em to me?

Yeah sorry, I'll get my coat....

Website translation said...

I can see perfectly that the benefit of having to get a story straight in your head in order to verbally tell it.