The Spiral of Storytelling, or Brooke, You're Obtuse.

I was walking the other night with someone I shall term a friend and hope the benefit of the doubt allows me to do so. I was telling more than I strictly should have at the time, so I was chatting in my usual lazy spiral. A few twists here, a few flourishes there to both convey and not the identity of those I was speaking about. My somewhat patient listener mostly comes along with me, in all of my rule breaking glory. At the end of this godsforsaken mess, she says "You have an obtuse manner of speaking."

Several thoughts flood into my pea sized brain at this juncture, overwhelming the switchboard. The first was a little bark of a laugh that I let out. It was at the remnant of a memory of another colleague saying the same in a rougher fashion. The second thought I had was that I was with one of the few honest enough humans walking the face of the Earth. The thought I gave voice to was "Yes, yes I am that and do." You, gentle reader, don't get an all access pass to me pea sized brain, so none of the rest of my thoughts on that night are on the table.

Excepting these.

Know the rules before you break them

I had the most fabulously gay art teacher in high school. As a teen, I'd attend school from 7AM to 9PM for one longish stretch of high school. My *cough* "guidance counsellor" wouldn't let me take the jewelry fabrication course I desperately desired, more so than snogging at the time.

Nor did that, mmm, woman, understand that I _needed_ art. Ah, but the art teacher did. He had a pet goat, and a penchant for saying things to teens that could easily get one fired. He was a mediocrish artist, but he passed on two of the great golden rules of art.

"Know the rules before you break them."

"Less is more."

Well, one of those took.

Speech has form.  Speech to me, and hopefully to others reading by the dim light of my pixels, has shape. I am fond of sculpture, just as I have a sordid affair with language. A sculpture teacher will request you draw out what is in your pea sized brain before your hands move to sculpt it. Some language teachers insist that you write drafts before you release a peep or period. These are nice precautions, but the ends of it are conveying precisely what you are looking to get across to your audience. If you don't like drafts or outlines, muck about after you've vomited your type: you're an afterthinker.

Straight lines are for every day speech

More often than no, when you speak or write an email or are otherwise engaging in the day to day snorefest we call life, you're speaking in a straight line.

"Honey, get the washing."

"I'll meet you at half seven."

"My boss is an ogre."

Look at it. It's even flanked by two little straight lines to remind you how boring you're being.

One of the things I drilled ad nauseum into my clerks was that one is better for using the other party's preferred medium of communication. If they like the phone, you like the phone. If they email, you email.

While you are almost always safe speaking in straight lines, they, alas, are not always the most effective form for speech.

Stories are usually spirals, not straight lines

I found my feet on Hawai'ian soil recently. If you've always wanted to go, I assure you that you really have no idea how badly, so you simply must go to find out the extent of your longing.

There, to my delight, in the lobby of my hotel, was a little sign advertising a storytelling festival. What luck!

I faffed about the first night it was on.

The second night it was on, I was on me way back from the Polynesian Cultural Centre. (Go, go, go. It is one of the best Native museums around, and I've been to a fair few.) Night had well fallen by the time I got back to my borrowed neck of the woods, and though I set off, the roads were twisting to me. I failed to find where the schedule said to be at the appointed time.

The third day, I set out. I walked all over the place. I hung out a little bit in Ala Moana park. Native time is good time.

Eventually, though, I found my way to these good people.

The horror! When they said "workshop" they indeed meant "WORK". Being wholly unprepared for this, I was tossed into three line introductions. I want to tell stories! Straight lines mucking about in a story circle. What is this?Screw that! I don't do that in this setting. So yes, I messed with these folks.

To be fair, I did offset it a little here and there by passing on a tidbit or two. I also stole a listen to some great stuff: there were a couple of Masters there. I stepped lightly about the kānaka maoli, being on their turf.

You see, stories are spirals. Ὀδύσσεια is a *spiral*. We surrender wholly to the twists and turns of Homer's great spiralling. We beg to come along.

When you put straight line rules to a spiral, the chances are you are doing it wrong.

These crappy little lines simply will not generally do.

My storytelling professor, who shall remain nameless to protect their innocence, wisely stated that stories have a beginning, middle, and end. These are the sort of beginning to a skeleton. The rest of the bones are how folks chose to tell it before you went and put your grubby paws on it. Now that you're in for it, might as well give it flesh, and breath. Great storytellers are Λύσιππος. Your mileage will vary.

That spiral of beginning, middle, and end is just that. It's usually not a circle. There might be an alternate route. Take too many, though, and you lose readers, as I undoubtedly am.

Who knows how good you are? As some mischief makers in Aotearoa say, "How hard can it be?"

Advocacy is a square or rectangle

We know that this is one beast in my zoo of pet peeves. The good natured folks attempting to advocate often have not had "Storytelling" on their transcript.

Uh oh.

So they speak in straight lines and put their listeners to sleep.Only their listeners are those in a position to help.

Uh oh, indeed.

The slightly more competent advocates will speak in a spiral. This is *still* in general, the wrong format.

Luckily for us, people have been engaging in this meaningless activity for millennia. So it's easy to counsel you that advocacy is a square or rectangle. You're on stage, be interesting and engaging.

You open with a thanks to all assembled, in particular those you seek to woo. Sly suckuppery is welcome here. Naught too obvious though. If it's not you, don't do it.

The next leg is a background, in the briefest but most vivid form you can force it to take. This will *want* to spiral, because this is your story, but for the most part, don't let it. It can bud up through the Earth inspiring curiousity, but if you're a beginner, do not allow it to bloom.

The next side is The Stuff You Want. If you can make your audience drool or cry here, you've done your job. Have them see things your way. Have them in your shoes, apples just out of reach, water just below the lowest part of your jaw. Make them suffer, generally in a guiltless sort of way. (Guilt is a bad motivator, that's why.)

The final piece is an appeal to be granted The Stuff You Want. Be concise and precise here. (A hundred donations of a hundred dollars, for instance.) Lay out an enticing array of different options to help, but again, be as brief as possible, while being vivid. Top it all off with a thank you for attending and a nod to how very important your audience is. Their time is valuable, and you'll not go wrong saying so.

Hopefully you've done such a marvelous job weaving that folks leap out of their chairs and ask how they can help.

Does this sound like the boring box step that is the interview dance? Ta da! It is. You are advocating for yourself in an interview. You are advocating for others in the wider format.

Policy is a bulleted list

In the interests of making me filthy rich:

 

  •  We do so appreciate you sending cheques for $1,000 or more to my doorstep
  •  It is not our custom to welcome the advances of dirty old men, though we do welcome their financial support
  •  Please do close the door on the way out.

 

Jokes are a bulleted list of three items

You'll find that this format is eerily similar to policy. Three things, though. No more, no less. It's Comedic Law.

Mission is gunshot

Your mission statements need to be briefish yet inspiring. If you've ever been in the unfortunate situation of having to write a grant summary, this is basically the same form of legalised torture.

Alas, though, a mission is a gathering of voyeurs. You'll need input from other living, breathing people if you want your mission to last or have meaning.

As in combat, aim for the heart for it's a larger target, if you miss and hit the head, that'll do.

Poetry is the crest of a wave

Don't read this section, I don't like competition.

*sigh* Fine.

I'm a bad poet, though, which is why I don't like competition.

Poetry is an emotion laden snapshot of a story.

This is the crest of the spiral wave. You're after whatever is emotionally cranking you before you break into insanity or the foam of meaninglessness.

The shorter the better, in general. Remember, that wave only has a few seconds at best before it crashes. The longer you make it, the harder it is on your audience and on you. If your last name is Byron, that's probably okay.

Many ballads are circles

Much of songstory travels in a circle. It comes from our strong desire to hit you over the head twice for good measure.

So yes, there you have it, the forms story takes from a novice. Take it, leave it, write me hate mail.