Monday, December 20, 2004

More on the search for stories

Kids often ask me where I get stories. This gives me the chance to go into a riff about 398.2 in the library, and about little ideas that are the seeds of bigger stories--the tagline on my logo is "All my stories start with a seed of truth." I have many stories that I describe as "personal fiction." Sometimes I tell kids that to find a story to tell, I often have to read twenty or thirty stories before I find THE one that I want to try.

There's only one big rule in storytelling, as far as I'm concerned: only tell stories you love. If you don't love it, don't tell it. All the other "rules" are merely suggestions.

There are times I find a story I love because it just cracks me up and I can see myself telling it easily. Or I'll find one that makes my heart sing and I know I have to tell it even if I don't know why. There are times I find a story I love, and I know it will be a challenge. "Tristan and Iseult" was--and still is--like that. I read the story and thought, "Yes! This is right for me!" It's a big meaty story with so many parts to it, so much to imagine and play with, and I love it. The first time I told that story in full, it took two and a half hours. I've reduced it to 95 minutes, plus an intermission. I'm thrilled when I get a booking for this story, though most venues aren't ready for a long traditional tale.

I've told stories I don't love. It was always a mistake. That happened more often in the beginning of my storytelling career, when I thought I had to say yes to all jobs. "Sure, I can tell Norse myths, no problem!" Then I'd go look for a Norse myth that I'd like and wouldn't find one, but I was already committed. Once I agreed to do a whole shadow puppet program, without ever having done shadow puppets. I pulled it off, but it was not my best work and I whined about it for a good two months before the actual show.

Sometimes I have to grow into a story. I'll find one and think it's right for me, but I have to work on it for months or years before it's really ready for performance. I've been working on "Tristan" for about nine years. I began working on the Medieval French story "Aucassin et Nicolette" last February, and I have no idea when it will truly be ready. I'll let you know when it is.


true thomas said...

You did Tristan and Iseult,long form? Brave woman! (not to mention, a plethora of dark moments...) Ah, Celts, masters of the glorious, wonderful, stories that always seem to end badly. Yuir a Bra Lassie, nu doubt.
Did the bards of old ever get paid? I wonder.

Norse is fun, you just gotta take the stops out.
Okay, for Loki- Take Jack Nicolson. "I just wanta go to the world series" Then take Dr. Frankenfurter from Rocky Horror..."Don't Panic, I just get you a Satanic Mechanic". Throw in a bit of Kaiser Soze,and a dash of Coyote and Iago,and you are ready to roll.
Lay of Thrym is good if you can do roaring. As is the apples of Idun.

Of course when I hang out in 398.2, they just assume I'm another pedophile. (Which is a small step up from Storyphile...)
I learned the hard way not to wait for inspiration. It did not come. For one gig, it never did. I still regret it. I guess I did not pray or work hard enough. AArgh.

Faith said...

Which came first with Flight - the story or the author?

I still say you need to keep The Rumor in your repertoire.


PriscillaHowe said...

Here's a question: is it better to respond to comments in a full post, or in my own comment? I'm still learning about blog etiquette.

As long as I'm here, I'll just answer today's comments.

True: Yup, I tell all of "Tristan and Iseult" except for a couple of episodes I consider expendable. Hey, if Wagner could edit, so could I. On the other hand, I'm not sure I want to compare myself to Wagner, for myriad reasons. That would certainly mean I'd be doing Norse myths. I'm not sure I've got the roar for them.

Faith: With "Flight," I saw that the story was written by Tina Howe (2nd cousin) and read it because of that (in a short-lived magazine called WigWag). As soon as I read it, I knew I wanted to tell it, so I wrote to her for permission.

Thanks for reminding me of "The Rumor." When I went to my high school reunion last summer, I saw the guy I used as the model for the main character. I didn't get to tell stories there, though I wondered what might happen if I'd told that one. Would he have known? If he did, would he be mad or pleased? [This story is about a fellow who slid through high school without making an impact. While he lived out of state, a rumor about him doing something heroic started, but nobody ever confirmed it. He moved home and people treated him as if he were that hero. He began to live up to their treatment of him. He never found out about the rumor.]