Friday, May 29, 2015

Crafting 101: Introductions!

There is a difference between crafting a story and just getting up and telling one.  Pretty much anyone who isn't afraid of speaking in public can get up and tell a story of some kind.  We share stories at weddings and funerals.  We share them during worship services, and amongst friends.  We share them on the radio and television. 

In this series of Blogs, I will look at a single story, and show the process I use to get from my first exposure to a tale all the way to the finished structure.

This is the seventh and last entry in the series.

The Pot Maker and The Tiger - The Story

1. Crafting 101: The Questions I Ask

2. Crafting 101:  Building The Structure

3. Crafting 101:  Flesh On The Bones

4  Crafting 101:  Donkey's and tigers and War Horses, Oh My!

5. Crafting 101: There Are No Little Characters...

7.  Crafting 101:  Introductions!

The finish line is in sight!  I'm almost ready to tell this story!  The last piece of this puzzle for me is the introduction.  

An introduction does several things:

1)  Set the tone for this story.

Is this tale going to funny?  Serious?  Scary? Full of twists and turns?  What is the mood I want to put my audience in before I start this story?  A good introduction helps us settle in for whatever the teller has on tap.

How does this story feel?

The Pot Maker and the Tiger is funny, a little soulful, slapsticky, and outrageous.  I think it would be fun to capture a bit of that in the introduction.

2)  Give the audience some idea about the path you plan to take.  The introduction should haunt the listener a bit when the story is over, and perhaps they won't even realize or remember the introduction until after they start telling someone else the tale.

Don't start without giving them some sense of direction

The Pot Maker and the Tiger is about discovering you already had everything you wanted or needed. It is an expanded 'No Place Like Home' kind of story.

3)  The introduction can create common space with the audience.  This story takes place in India with a fellow who has a job that is not common to an American audience.  The introduction can help the audience begin in a place that makes them feel kinship for him.

So, how did I go about creating the introduction for this story using the criteria I set?  I used personal narrative, call and response, and audience participation, which is my favorite mode of introducing a story.

First, I establish common ground with my audience by asking a question.

3 - 5th grade - I ask what they want to do when they grow up.  We spend three to five minutes talking about their future dreams.  Vets, Doctors, Professional Athletes, Actors, Singers, Artists, Educators, Police Officers, Construction Workers, Architects - whatever they like.  Sometimes I make comments, sometimes I just name off jobs they might like, and then I go back and ask if anyone wants a job I didn't already name.  In the south, NASCAR comes up pretty often.

6 - 8th grade -  I follow a similar tack.

High School, I do the same.

There are still kids who want to be president.

With family audiences, I ask the adults what they thought they wanted to be, and the kids what they want to be.

I'll have you know I started with an image of shirtless firefighters, but it got too distracting.

After that, I tell two short pieces of personal narrative.

1) I tell the story of how my four year old son discovered that he was most likely not going to grow up to be a velociraptor and how devastated he was when this realization hit him.

2)  I tell the story of how my four year old daughter wanted to be a magician, and the way she discovered that there was no such thing as actual magic, and magicians used illusions.

At the end of that story, I explain that my son is a sculptor who wants to go into 3Dimensional Graphic Design and Animation, and design video games.  He still loves dinosaurs, sculpts them frequently, and if he does design video games, you can be sure there will be dinosaurs involved.

At some point, I told my daughter the story of her four year old self, and she laughed and replied,  "Mom, I am magic.  I just didn't know it yet."

She wants to go into theoretical physics and focus on quantum mechanics...that's as close to magic as one can get!

I throw in the idea that if you enjoy your work and it is fulfilling in your life, then it doesn't matter whether or not you ever get to be rich and famous, especially since most people in the world are not rich and famous, and many are more than happy enough.  I finish up this segment by telling the audience that lots of people have dreams about their lives like the main character in this tale from India, The Pot Maker and The Tiger.


Now, after all of that, it is finally time to take this story out for a test drive.  

I started telling this story to audiences about three years ago.

Some things have changed, others have resettled and reshaped.  The introduction has gone through some permutations, and depending on the age of the audience I focus on different things.  Overall, I am pleased with this tale, and I look for more and more places to tell it.

As you might have noticed, I began this process absolutely certain I would not tell this tale to 3 - 5th grade.  Once I started working with it, however, one of the permutations worked really well for this age group, and I must say, they love it.

So, as is often the case, I was totally, irrevocably, and in all other ways wrong about what I thought was going to happen with this story.  I'm wrong about lots of other things too, so, I'm used to it!  Keeping my mind open as I play with a story is crucial to being able to see it in different ways.  Since I know I'm prone to being wrong, I try to let the story tell me to try something new. 

If you see me out there on the road in the next couple of years, you will most probably hear me tell this story.

In Conclusion:

This is the process I use to break stories apart and then reconstruct them.  Sometimes it is a quick process, but other times, like in the case of the Pot Maker and The Tiger, I spend years wrestling with a tale to make sure I am getting the most out of it. 

I strongly recommend that you find a process that works well for you when crafting tales.  Hone it, work with it, and use it when you get new material.  

Over time, you will get so good at your own system, you will be able to shortcut it most of the time.  When you encounter a tale you find difficult that you wish to master, taking it through the steps of your process can help.

Ultimately, what I hope you would get out of this long series of blogs is that the most important thing you can do when crafting a tale is to make choices.  

Choose what you are going to say.  

Choose what your characters do.  

Choose what kinds of sounds or movement you want.  

Choose your endings, beginnings, introductions.  

Choose.  Don't let the story sweep you away.  Ride it like a Boss, and make it go where you will...or perhaps I should say, ride it like a tiger.

Apparently, this is a graphic of Lebron James riding a tiger, holding up a cherub.  The internet is strange.

Happy Crafting!