Stories are a fuggly hack

My latest Locus Magazine column is Stories Are a Fuggly Hack, in which I point out the limits of storytelling as an artform, and bemoan all the artists from other fields -- visual art, music -- who aspire to storytelling in order to make their art.

There are other media, much more abstract media, that seemingly manage to jump straight to the feels: painting, photography, poetry, sculpture, music. Not always – all of these things can tell stories, but they don’t need to in order to make you feel things. Instead, they seem to reach right inside your skull and tickle the feeling parts of you, trig­gering cascades of intense emotion that are all the more powerful for their inexplicable nature.

Now, this stuff is all very primal and non-rational and is hard to taxonomize and rationalize and turn into something repeatable. If I can’t tell you why ‘‘Guernica’’ makes me feel Guernica-ey, then how are you supposed to improve on it in a future iteration to fine-tune the emotive effect? At least with stories, you know that if you tell a scary story, and it works, the audience will experience fear. But the emotional oomph of non-narrative art is much more mysterious, more of an art, really, and though it may be harder to systematize, when it gets in the groove, look out.

Which is why, as a ‘‘storyteller,’’ I sometimes get a little impatient with people who are really good at those other media – none of which I have any talent for, incidentally – when they rhapsodize about sto­rytelling as a way of practicing their art. That’s not because I want to jealously guard my preserve here in storyland, but because making someone feel something without all that tedious making-stuff-up is a hell of an accomplishment and it’s heartbreaking to see brilliant artists turn their back on it.

Stories Are a Fuggly Hack [Cory Doctorow/Locus]

(Image: Großmutters Geschichten 19Jh, Public Domain)

Notable Replies

  1. It's true everything is a 'story' now and everyone wants to be a 'storyteller.' Fashion spreads are 'fashion stories.' Food photography tells a 'food story,' but if storytellers want to jump straight to the 'feels' (god help me for using that term) they could just skip story and write little descriptive vignettes. So why don't they? You can get to 'feels' before you fully assemble a story, if that's really your goal.

  2. I don't know. There's a reason why "The Wall" and "Tommy" are such classic albums, and a large part of it is that they aren't just a collection of songs but they tell a story.

    And "The Walking Dead" adventure games aren't really that great as adventure games per se (there aren't a lot of puzzles) but they are almost universally acclaimed for the story of Lee and Clementine that they tell.

  3. I think all art forms look like magic from the outside but like a 'fuggly hack' from the inside. Hiding the 'technique' is what I think sets good art aside... including storytelling.

  4. peterk says:

  5. Finally, an article that justifies my utter lack of artistic narrative!

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