WoW #5: Storytelling & Dreaming Big
This is the fifth week of my Writing on Wednesday (WoW) posts where I share the transcript of a recent writing vlog. You can check out the full video series: here, and you can read previous posts in my transcript series:
- WoW Week One: Writing Advice
- WoW Week Two: Updates, Bookplates, & Yellowjackets
- WoW Week Three: Return to Writing
- WoW Week Four: Handling Criticism & Controversy
This week’s video was first posted March 30, 2022, and it’s titled: Storytelling & Dreaming Big. You can watch the video below or read the lightly edited transcript beneath.
I’ve been talking about the Seven Fallen Hearts, and you’re probably like, “Hurry up, come out with the second book, already,” which is a totally reasonable thing to say. I have been working on it, and I want to get it just right, because I’m really in love with it, and I want you all to love it, too.
It’s going so well in this world. I’m putting creatures into in a way that I was weirdly holding myself back about in the past, and I’ve just kind of flung myself completely into the world, and I’m doing whatever feels right.
I don’t know how to explain it exactly, because I don’t want you all to think that I’m just throwing whatever at this book and hoping it sticks. There is a lot of thought going into this to make sure that it’s cohesive, but it’s also something that I am not holding myself back. In the past, I would tell myself, “Well, that’s too much, you can’t have that in there.” With this one, there really is nothing that’s too much for me. It’s all, “Yeah, that’s if we can this.”
That’s really been mantra. There is this line from Inception, and it’s one of my favorite quotes.
“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”
I have to remind myself of that, too, because I am my own worst enemy. I am usually the thing standing in my own way and telling myself I can’t do something, when in reality, I can do so much more.
One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is why do we tell stories, and why do we choose to tell the stories that we tell. It is something that I really changed my whole onion about it over the past ten-plus years of my writing career.
With publishing, even with self-publishing, there can be sense of scarcity. Because everyone has only so much for reading, and there are so many other things competing with reading. Life is finite, free time is finite, shelf space is finite, and so there is this scarcity where we feel gotta compete, because we all want to get on the shelf and have our stories heard.
There is always going to be a feeling of competition when there’s a non-unlimited resource that people are vying for, whether it’s bestseller lists, shelf space, or anything else.
Initially when I started publishing, I did feel that more. I felt like I had to compete with other books, because I did want to stand out, and it was easy to get “it’s my book or theirs” kind of survivalist mentality about it.
But I don’t think that’s good, and I don’t recommend doing that. I am mostly past that now fortunately, but the way that changed for me is that my view on storytelling really changed.
There is something so beautiful about storytelling. It is one of our oldest art forms so intrinsic to our lives and our society that we don’t really think of it as an art. We can all be dismissive writing, especially fiction that focuses on romance or fantasy, but outside of specific classics or literary novels, writing is just often overlooked as anything special.
I saw a tweet last week that was clearly written to being inflammatory, to get outrage clicks and all that. It said something like, “How can anyone read fiction in times like this?” As if only non-ficiton is a valid thing, as if history books are the only arbiters of truth and the way educate, inform, and share.
I love non-fiction books, too. Don’t get me wrong. But I also love fiction of all kinds. Fiction is a way to tell things that we would be unable to tell otherwise, and fiction gives us this way to see it from a different perspective and allows us access to other experiences that we will never actually be able to have.
I’m not saying that just because you’ve read a book, you have experienced it. Just because I’ve read Slaughterhouse Five doesn’t mean I experienced WWII alongside Kurt Vonnegut – but it did allow me to see more and understand more about it, or at least about how Vonnegut experienced the war, in a way that I didn’t before I read it.
In fictional settings, the things the chracters go through hasn’t really happened, and often it’s so fantastical and far-removed from anything that actually could happen. But the emotions, their lives still have be grounded in some sense of realism, or it won’t resonate with readers.
That’s what storytelling is ultimately about. It is a way for people to connect, to share to feel.
Humans are one of the only animals that can tell stories, and especially stories with the complexity that we do. I believe that Koko the Gorilla could tell some basic stories, and there was an African Grey Parrot who could tell something like a story. But they were always simplistic based more on repetition than inventing characters or worlds. I’m definitely not trying to diminish the intelligence of these animals – they are incredibly smart – and I think that animals incapable of telling stories still have quite a bit of intelligence. Just because we’re measuring them on their linguistics doesn’t mean they don’t have knowledge or things to share.
But I think that storytelling is such a uniquely human thing, and it’s so incredibly important.
Even now, when you see the way information is conveyed, it’s always to do a snippet. They’re teaching you tropes in a way, so they can real quick get the whole story across, since they don’t think anyone has an attention span.
But the real point of is that conveying information is often a story. Everything is a story. We’re constantly telling stories about ourselves to ourselves – that’s what an inner monologue is. Stories are essential building blocks of our society, and everybody should be telling their story.
I think it’s so, so important, and I no longer abide by the idea of scarcity. Like, yes, scarcity does exist, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be telling your story. There are so, so many people on this planet, with so many experiences, so many lives, so much knowledge, so many mistakes, so many stories that could and should be shared.
Many story can be broken down into four basic conflicts: Human vs human, human vs nature, human vs self, human vs society. Depending on the story, I think Batman has done everyone of those, which is to say these are simplistic breakdowns.
But all of those conflicts an mean so many different things depending on how they’re told and who told them, and depenediing who you decide the main character is, and the depth, the struggle, and the scope of the conflict can change dramatically.
Everything is conveying information, and that’s the thing. Even if you think that you’re not, you still are, you just don’t know what you’re telling people.
You are telling this story for a reason. Because even if you’re like, “Well, I just like mysteries, so I want to write a mystery.” But if you’re writing a murder mystery, who you chose to be the detective and who you chose to be the criminal, where you set the book, how the crime is solved, I mean every little detail about it is saying something about you. It is as snapshot into your mind, into the life that you are living on this planet in the year 2022, regardless of when/where you set the book.
One of my favorite TV show is the OG Law & Order. I know it’s boring and basic, but I am boring and basic. I have watched my whole life, I have watched every episode dozens if not hundreds of times.
My absolute favorite part is the opening scene before the credits. The first two-five minutes snippet of some random New Yorker discovering a dead body – or sometimes a person missing or other crime, but it’s usually a dead body. It’ll just be a couple having a fight, or a man walking a dog, and then all of the sudden, they stumble across the body, and they’ve got nothing to do with the rest of the story (usually, but sometimes they do).
Anyway, I just it, because it’s this little snapshot. It says so much about New York, and the people who were writing the show, and the attitudes of the media and the US at the time of filming the episode. It’s fascinating, because the show has been on so long – twenty years originally, and now it’s back from a ten+ year hiatus. So, you watch a season one episode, and you get this tiny little snapshot into New York thirty years ago. I know it’s not 100% accurate or represntive of everything – nothing is – but it is still saying something about that time.
I love that. I love the way the stories we tell can’t help but reflect the world we live in and the author themselves. Not perfectly, not completely, but a distorted peek into another person’s life is still a very special thing.
With social media, people are offering peeks into their life all the time. People online are often lying, and they’re often telling the truth. It can be very confusing, because so many stories are being told, and some are twisted, and we want to trust the people that we like. That can make it even more difficult when people are deliberately being bad actors, who con and lie and manipulate.
But I honestly think the solution for that, as strange as it sounds, is for more people to share their stories. Voices and information that was hidden can come to light. People want to share, to be heard, to learn from others, to build a community. In the US, I see a real desperation for community and a sense of identity. How many social media bios are just a list of nouns to define an identity? People want to be seen for who they believe they are.
That is one thing that I try to do with my books. Again, they are not perfect, and I struggle and make mistakes. But my main goals with them is to give you a little bit of an escape for a bit, relief from the stress of life, and you know that there’s going to be a (mostly) happy ending at the end of the books, when there is no promise of that in life. But I also want my readers to feel seen and validated, and to have their experiences feel validated. Because I know there are times when I see characters, and I get to really see myself, and it’s beautiful and humbling.
When they talk about representation matters, and people can be dismissive of it. But the people who are dismissive tend to be the ones that have always been represented, so they don’t know what it’s like.
That is what I’m trying to do with my stories.
However, I know there’s so many things that I’ve internalized from the stories I’ve heard, that I’ve read, and I know so many other people have heard and read those stories, too. Internalized biases like that, they aren’t things that anyone deliberately chooses. It’s just that the story has been repeated over and over again, and now you’ve got the refrain stuck in your head.
But that’s also why I want everyone out there to tell their story. The refrains won’t exactly be the same, and we aren’t going to have the exact same repetitions. I’m sure we’ll all make mistakes. We’ll find all new tropes to be harmful. But the only way we can move forward is take we keep taking steps, even if that means sometimes we’ll have missteps.
What really got me into thinking about storytelling as communication and as an artform was Jim Henson’s The Storyteller. The opening quote of the show at the end of the credits was this:
When people told themselves their past with stories, explained their present with stories, foretold the future with stories, the best place by the fire was kept for the storyteller.– Jim Henson’s The Storyteller
Television, plays, even the written word in general, they haven’t been around that long, not in the scheme of things. But the spoken word has been around for thousands and thousands of years. We’re talking anywhere from 50,000-150,000 years ago.
We’ve been telling stories so much longer than we’ve been able to document the telling of them. The mediums and the rules we have now about constructing novels or scripts, those are actually very, very new in terms of specific definitions, but stories were common things for a millennium.
but they were common things that were
I would really to write a prehistoric story someday. It’s very ambitious, so I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do it, but I would love to write something about humanity when we just learned to tell stories. I find the whole concept so fascinating, because other animals aren’t able to do it, not anywhere near to the degree that we do.
I’m always trying to learn more about it, and I definitely don’t think that I am an excerpt storyteller now. But I don’t think you have to be an expert to tell stories.
Stephanie Perkins, the fabulous author of Anna and the French Kiss, There’s Someone Inside Your House, and The Woods are Always Watching, recently shared an quote from Amy Poehler that really resonated with me.
“Do it even if you don’t think you’re ready… a lot of women wait until they think they’re really really ready for something. And I’ve worked with a lot of guys who aren’t ready for what they’re doing.”– Amy Poehler to young female directors.
She mentioned women specifically, but I don’t think it necessarily falls along gender lines or that it’s that binary. There are people who jump in feet first, and there are people who hold themselves back, constantly second-guessing themselves. I don’t think we should be doing that, especially not with having our voices heard.
The more people are allowed to share, the more that people feel heard, and the more that people actually heard – that we’re having this real conversation of listening, of sharing each other’s pain and our joys, our struggles and triumphs, the better the world would be.
I think there is a big issue with people feeling like they’re not being heard, and so many people have not been heard for a long time. Getting to a point where we can communicate honestly en masse is a huge hurdle, but it is one that I think humanity is going to have to figure out if we want to move forward.
But anyway, circling back to what I said originally, you mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger.
That is the way I am trying to live my life now. I’m trying not to be afraid to dream bigger, and to go forward with my head high and my heart open.
I am excited about what’s to come. I mean, it is hard to be excited about anything in the world right now, but life is still… it’s still everything. It can be messy, cruel, complicated, and disgusting, but ti’s also beautiful, wonderful, fulfilling, and all that there is. It’s all that we have are these lives.
I spent so much of my early life being very depressed and anxious. Honestly, I am consistently happy for maybe the first time in my life, in a way that I never was before. These past few years have required a lot of therapy to get to this point, a lot of retraining and reframing things. But a huge lesson for me was how may times I have held myself back, how many times because of lack of therapy and bad brain chemistry and other things – because I am not trying to say that you should blame yourself for your depression, and I am not even blaming myself anymore. But the fact is that I was miserable for a long time, and I don’t want to be anymore. I don’t feel bad about that.
I mean, I feel about all the terrible, inhumane things happening in the world wright now, and I try to do as much as I can to make life better, to be kind and to help others when I can. But obviously, I’m not always getting it right.
But it’s the only way I know to live my life.
I don’t know. Maybe I got too deep there at the end, and I have definitely talked long enough.
I hope that wherever you are, you are staying safe, happy, and healthy. If you have a story to tell, I think you should tell. Don’t hold yourself back, and don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger.
Until next time, stay safe, be kind, and happy writing.