Dr Duncan James > Storytelling

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Storytelling

A magical experience for the storyteller and the reader/listener/viewer/player.

I first got into storytelling in my teenage years when I played RPGs. It was not all storytelling, but some of it was. And when I went to university I attended some storytelling workshops. For some reason, my interest then drifted. The hobbies that really came to the fore in my life were exploring for wildlife in mountains, rainforest and other amazing places and dancing. These two hobbies kind of pushed other things into the background. I think what has changed now is that I am self-employed and the time-sink that is work is now under control more: I work efficiently so do less hours and some of it is spend on what would be my hobbies anyway. So, I've created the time to rekindle my love of storytelling.

SEED

An epic story spanning entire universes.

One evening at university a friend and I sat and imagined a fantasy universe together. At the end of the evening I asked him if he thought he'd ever do anything with it. He said no and agreed I could take it and use it. It has been slowly growing into a monstrously epic story over the years in my mind! Barely a week goes by that I don't enjoy daydreaming about life in this imaginary world. Starting to create this epic tale will be my reward if I can keep the trend going of working fewer and fewer hours every week.

Storytelling Skills

As I get into storytelling more and more, so I find the skills behind it really interesting.

I'm looking forward to sharing my thoughts on storytelling techniques. Much like in my other hobbies, I think my science mind means I bring a unique angle. I'm not claiming it is any better or worse than other angles, but it is a different angle and I hope people enjoy it. I have written up a lot of notes on writing that I use as my own personal resource. I look forward to finding some time to share this on my website and perhaps as some videos.

Improv

Anything can happen!

Improv is so great. I love it! I barely ever get to do it at the moment but that is just because it is so dependent on finding a group of like-minded people and that can be awkward, particularly if I am enjoying one of my main hobbies of exploring the wilderness looking for wildlife!

Tabletop Role-playing Games

Visit the Wikipedia role-playing game page if you wonder what this is!

I am a big fan of role-playing games. I like the fact they have elements of games (dice rolling, statistics and storytelling) but in a much "freer" environment. If you are playing Risk have you ever wanted to try and build a navy or setup a base on the moon? In a role-playing game you can come up with an idea like this and explore it. They are also, generally, cooperative instead of competitive. A simplistic way of describing role-playing games is as dice-heavy games and dice-light games. I am a fan of dice-light games as described in a Reddit conversation about rolling less dice.

Interactive Stories

Where you choose how the adventure goes.

Another form of storytelling. This is a chance to spend time enjoying a form of storytelling in your free time without needing a group. You read a story and are offered choices to see how the story develops. Over the years I have seen, heard and read many criticisms of this genre. I think that they often miss the point that it should be allowed to stand on its own as a unique artform. I think an interactive story fails as a novel. I think an interactive story fails as a game. But, I think an interactive story succeeds as an interactive story!

This form of storytelling appeals to me and I am considering trying to use it to tell my SEED story. But we'll see!

Book Reviews

Looking at other books to study storytelling techniques.

I'm happy to suspend disbelieve and enjoy a good book. However, afterwards I do like to look back on the story and see how the writer has used storytelling techniques to make the story better. I also enjoy the challenge of trying to spot places where use of other storytelling techniques might have improved it even more.

Films and Short Films

Watching films to study storytelling techniques.

I love a good film. I enjoy watching visual storytelling. I particularly like the physicality: for example seeing how a skilled physical actor chases another actor through a busy environment. For many, this type of physical acting seems to be an irrelevance. For me, I really tune into it and the opposite is also true: a physical movement at a crucial moment that breaks the physical laws the film has established can really spoil a film for me.

Obviously I also enjoy the non-physical storytelling elements as well.

Narrative Wargames

Storytelling in a time of war.

A lot of human history has to do with war. Will warfare turn out to be an historical blip? We are not certain (at least that is my current understanding of our historical knowledge) whether war was really much of a thing more than about 10,000 years ago. And maybe it will stop soon. In which case it could be a short period in the vastness of human civilisation. Regardless, I feel our ability as a race to wreak such horrors on each other is worthy of note. Should this be done with a game? Games are a construct that can allow us to explore and discuss many topics and it does not have to mean they are being trivialised. I think a narrative wargame offers the chance to enjoy the tactics and challenge but also be clear about the fact that war is very very bad.

I personally see wargames as very similar to RPGs. I also think wargaming is ripe for a new set of rules that would encourage more role-playing than is currently possible. I mention this on my website as I think it is an interesting form of storytelling that should be acknowledged and also to remind me to one day put up my experimental rules if they ever get playtested enough to be usable.

TV, Radio and Other Old-Fashioned Media

Storytelling in a seasonal format.

"Some people see the glass as half full and some as half empty. Jack Bauer sees the glass as a deadly weapon."

"Two hands can beat a royal flush. Jack Bauer's right hand and Jack Bauer's left hand."

"Jack Bauer never retreats, he just attacks in the opposite direction."

"There is the right way, the wrong way and the Jack Bauer way (basically the right way but quicker and more people die)."

"Surrounded by fanatical terrorists, handcuffed to a nuclear bomb and barely conscious; Jack Bauer laughed to himself thinking 'I have them right where I want them.'"

"Once, someone tried to tell Jack Bauer a 'knock knock' joke. Jack Bauer found out who was there, why they were there, who they worked for and the location of the bomb."

"Jack Bauer does not get taken prisoner. He merely gives his enemy a false sense of security."

I think Jack Bauer is hilarious and although I'm not keen on all the torture I like the commitment of the writers to promoting equality

Children of Earth is a mini-series based on Torchwood (a spin-off from Doctor Who). I think everyone should watch this. I love the quote where the alien (who has asked for 10% of the children of Earth) sounds genuinely surprised that we think this is such an unreasonable request as we let so many die all the time anyway. It is a throwaway line, and not dwelt on, and I find it even more powerful for this reason. A review from someone who has the same feelings about Torchwood on Den of Geek reveals the interesting factlet that this was originally to be a longer season but was cut down to five episodes which perhaps explains why it is so tightly written.

I really enjoyed the first three series of Lost. I think that if you then stop watching it works really well as a TV series that ends with a "the viewer must decide what was really happening" type situation. If you watch episodes 4, 5 and 6 I think they just disappoint and your own ideas are better than the answers provided by the writers.



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