Storytelling

I’ve never been sure if I’m writer. Me and grammar are not the best of friends. I have a tendency to think it’s getting in my way.

I’ve always considered myself to be a storyteller. I’m currently using words a medium, but I use it in addition to the other mediums of storytelling I have studied, theater and film.

I tend to visualize my stories as a movie or TV show, and use those images to make fully realized scenes.

I also have a habit of breaking everything down to basic plots, a hero’s journey, a romance, a mystery, a coming of age story. They all beats that have to be followed.

The rest is window dressing. Skill as a storyteller is knowing what color curtains to use and how much fabric you need.

Got in a pretty nasty fight with some writers about this. They insisted that a character’s gender dictated the story. No matter how I tried to point out that the emotional journey for Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and Buffy Summers were the same, despite the vast differences in their worlds, I was shut down.

I got frustrated in the end and walked away. Even worse, this is not the first time I’ve has to do this. Last year, I got in a similar argument about setting.

Someone tried to argue that some stories are so entwined with their setting that they can’t be moved. Patent crap. Sure you have change the window dressing, but the basic story remains the same. That doesn’t mean that setting shouldn’t make sense and be detailed. It just means that the story is bigger than it’s setting.

Every story is chock full of cliches and tropes. You cannot avoid it. And yes, I can take your story,  change the gender of the protagonist and the setting, and still tell the same story.

That’s not an indictment on your writing, or mine. It’s a simple truth. What makes a story unique is how you tell it, the metaphors, the language, the dialogue. But a romance is romance on planet Zerg between a balemorph and a trog or on earth between a man and woman. The same tropes and cliches apply, only the details change.

“But Kate, my details are soooo unique!”

No. They are personal, but they are in no way unique.

And I think that’s the point where discussions break down. I refuse to acknowledge that your precious, snowflake of a story is at all unique, or the choices you made immutable. Your character’s gender or religion or race are superficial. They inform the character, but they do not dictate what direction the story goes in.

Look back up at the Hero’s Journey. A female hero may answer the call to adventure to avoid an arranged marriage, but she’s answering the call. She may suffer sexism as one her trials, but she’s still enduring the trials. The Journey continues regardless of her gender, or the tropes associated with it.

Even worse, for most authors, if I look, I can even find that the details  you chose have been used dozens, if not hundreds of time.

There is nothing new under the sun (including that phrase), and everything has been done before, probably by Shakespeare.

If you’re character’s gender is so important that their story cannot be told without it, you have a weak character.

If you’re setting is so important that the story cannot be told without it, you don’t understand your story.

“But Kate, my story is about a woman in the real, modern world. She experiences sexism or it isn’t realistic.”

Fine, that’s part of your setting, and informs your character. It’s NOT part of your story. Your story is coming of age story. The protagonist would experience some form of abuse or hardship, and based on your setting you chose sexism. But sexism isn’t an immutable part of every coming of age story.

You cannot tell a story if you don’t understand what story you are telling.

 

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