These posts are adapted from the 20 minute lessons on story telling presented by Dan at the beginning of our Workshop! Workshop! show.
At the Workshop! Workshop! We are always pushing the agenda that everything is a skill. Writing is a skill. Telling a story is a skill. In terms of nature vs nurture, we stan hard for nurture.
Dan’s lessons hinge on the fact that he’s interested in how we learn in general and how we get better at skills in general so he spends a lot of time looking at pop science books. He loves finding techniques for learning and improving specific skills. This can often be applied generally. How we learn comes up in the book, The Elephant in the Brain which talks about how we narrativize our lives. It talks specifically about how we separate our sense of self from our actions. (This was a book Dan talked a lot about in an early episode of Workshop! Workshop! And I wrote about here.)
Another book talked about, Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty Kick was a study on why some teams are horrible at penalty kicks and others are incredible. One of the points they brought up is that we are crazy adept at doing complex physics in real time without even knowing it. For example, hitting a baseball with a bat is an incredible feat. From a physics standpoint, it’s mind blowing how good we are at it! Someone can swing a bat and hit a 90+ mph fastball. Why can we do that? Babies learn to catch balls tossed from really great distances. (Similarly, watch youtube videos about the physics of how cats fall. Wild.) Another thing they talk about in Twelve Yards is that if you teach athletes the science behind what they are doing, even though they’re not doing math calculations in their head, they see an improvement in their skill! If you understand the physics behind what’s happening, you become more efficient.
From personal experience, the same is true with storytelling. You do a lot of this stuff intuitively, but if you have a vocabulary and language around it you can do it more efficiently. You tell stories everyday. Even if you aren’t social, you still tell stories -you just tell them to yourself. If you’re telling stories to yourself, you still get feedback, you adjust the story depending how it makes you feel. You teach yourself concepts like beginning, middle, end. You learn from your peers, your parents, everyone around you. You learn the rules around how to tell a good story.
That’s intuitive learning. You do it naturally, you mimic what you see around you. When you learn to name it, and use the vocabulary of storytelling and structure, what you do naturally comes to you more easily. It also has the added effect that you can talk to others about what you’re doing and why. You can see the choices you’re naturally making in the stories you’re telling well, and apply those techniques to the stories that aren’t hitting the mark for you.
As you grow in storytelling skill and vocabulary, what happened by accident, naturally starts to become a choice. You see the pros and cons more clearly and that’s where art and craft come into play. Making choices, knowing why you’re making those choices, and seeing the delight of an audience is a path to fulfillment.
If you are interested in learning more about the art of storytelling, I recommend you check out one of our old shows, or catch us Monday at 6pm central on twitch.tv/storyluck.