The Tricky Part of the Story

By Loren Niemi, Sharing the Fire 2016 Workshop Presenter

loren_niemiI have spent most of my 35+ years as a storyteller fascinated with and working at understanding how people construct stories.

Over the years it meant going from simply reading and picking apart the structure of traditional folk and fairy tales, to focusing on what various choices of a narrative path meant. How did the choice of the Hero’s Journey, or a flashback form, differ and shape the way a story was told and understood?

I wrote The New Book of Plots as a way of collecting the research and development of that focus as it was manifest in workshops and my own story creation.

Increasingly, I’ve turned my attention to the “hidden” portion of the story – the emotional arc – the space where our feelings of like or dislike, engagement or disdain reside. And in looking at the construction of that part of the story I see that there is not a single arc but three simultaneous elements competing for the listener’s attention.

There is the arc of the narrator, what I know in the telling and how I feel about what is being told – though when I am telling a personal story it might be framed as “how do I feel now, telling about me then?”

There is the arc of the character (or characters) inside the story. What is their emotional state as the story progresses? In folk tales, this is often a large blank space that tellers need to fill in for themselves and the audience. (Is Jack confident or cowardly as he knocks upon the Giant’s door?)

Then there is the arc of the audience. What do you want them to feel as the story progresses? If I’m telling a ghost story, it is not enough to say, “frightened”; how do I instill that fright and build it to a satisfactory conclusion for the listener?

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and making it look simple is hard work. That is all the more reason why I want to work with storytellers of all stripes, old and new, to explore the how and why of crafting the emotional arcs to build better stories. That is why every workshop is a mix of talking and hands-on story-making. It is a chance to learn, over and over again, how to make the careful and complex look as easy as it is satisfying.

Want to learn how to turn an oral tale into written form? On Saturday, April 2 at Sharing the Fire 2016, Loren Niemi will be presenting his workshop, The Emotional Arc of Stories. Learn more about Sharing the Fire  and register today!

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Have thoughts about the emotional arc of stories? Leave a comment.



The Tricky Part of the Story — 2 Comments

  1. I have come to feel that it is my primary task as a teller to guide, celebrate and allow the arc of the audience. We all know how rarely that arc follows the path that we predict it will in all our preparation. Without the audience, no story is complete.

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