The reason other people's dreams are boring is because most people are bad at telling stories. This video from The School of Life offers suggestions on how to narrate your dreams (or tell any kind of story, factual or fictional) without boring your audience.
These are some of the rules for storytelling:
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– firstly, we know what we mean far earlier than anyone else can and so we must understand a story at least five times as well when it is to be shared in company as when it is merely left to marinade in our own brains.
– secondly, keeping a story brief takes far more effort than letting it expand. The philosopher Pascal once touchingly apologised to a friend for the length of a letter he had written him. As he admitted: ‘I’m sorry I didn’t have time to make it shorter.’
– thirdly, we need to simplify. The downfall of almost all anecdotes is an accumulation of incidental detail untethered to the underlying logic of the story. If one is explaining how it felt to see one’s grandmother, it is irrelevant (and a waste of someone else’s rather precious life) to say what time one left the house and what the weather happened to be like. We need a view of the branches, not of every leaf.
– fourthly, factual events (dates, times, actions) are always less interesting (though far easier to remember) than feelings – and yet it’s the feelings that invariably contain the kernel of what can intrigue others.
Here's a brief audio update on the immediate future of HOME: Stories From L.A. The TL;DR version is, I'm slowing down the production schedule to make the project more sustainable over the long term. Give a listen for a little more background on the hows and whys of it all. The show returns this spring for Season 5, and in the meantime, the archive is a great way to load up your podcatcher. (Oh, also: I'm looking for a social media/publicity ninja; if that's you, drop me a line.)
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If you're already a subscriber, many thanks. And if you have a minute to leave the show a short review at the iTunes Store it'd be much appreciated. Read the rest
Shawn writes, "A gaggle of Chicago comedians came together to produce an authentic 1950's radio show about how Frasier's parents met while solving the murder of a young Seattle waitress. Featuring young beat cop Marty Crane and behavioral psychologist Hester Palmer, this thing's got it all: mystery, comedy, rats, operas, and a well-utilized HOLIDAY SETTING. You don't have to be a Frasier fan to enjoy it, but if you ARE, you should also know that it's faithful to all established Cheers/Frasier continuity. We even have a full list of citations, in case you don't believe us.
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HOME: Stories From L.A., a member of the Boing Boing Podcast Network, is on a brief hiatus, and returns for its fourth season in October. If you haven't heard the show yet, this might be a good time to catch up with an episode from the archive -- like "The House On The Hill," about a forgotten figure from the Golden Age of Hollywood; or "A Home, A Murder, A Mystery (or two)," about a house that saw a horrific murder in 1959 and then sat empty and silent for more than 50 years; or "Rose, Mercedes and The Days Of The Dead," about what an L.A. actress did to encourage the troublesome spirit of her late grandmother to vacate the house they once shared. (Hint: It involved sage. And hammers.)
HOME looks at home in the broadest sense -- as a place, a feeling, an aspiration, a dream. Do you have a story about home that takes place in Southern California? If so, I'd love to hear from you. Drop me a note. Tell me a story. And maybe you can have a hand in helping me figure out: What do we mean when we talk about home? Read the rest
The Wall Street Journal reports that storytellers—people with a natural inclination to craft concise yet compelling narratives without rambling—were found to be hot by science. Feels good to be a writa.
The results were the same across all three studies: Women rated men who were good storytellers as more attractive and desirable as potential long-term partners. Psychologists believe this is because the man is showing that he knows how to connect, to share emotions and, possibly, to be vulnerable. He also is indicating that he is interesting and articulate and can gain resources and provide support.
“Storytelling is linked to the ability to be a good provider,” because a man is explaining what he can offer, says Melanie Green, an associate professor in the department of communication at the University at Buffalo and a researcher on the study. The men didn’t care whether the women were good storytellers, the research showed.
There is also a "how to" guide for nascent storytellers: master the technical basics, set aside time to practice, build a repertoire of basics, develop a relationship to tense, and get emotional.
Spotted via the sneering Gilfoyles of Hacker News, who seem fabulously angry about this for some reason. Read the rest
For more than a decade, BB pal Eames Demetrios (grandson of Charles and Ray Eames) has developed Kcymaerxthaere, a fantastically strange collection of parallel universe stories physically tied to real world sites that link the alternate reality with our own. The actual installations are at 121 sites in 25 countries so far. "It’s like a novel with every page in a different place," Eames says. Now, he and his collaborators are creating a limited edition book compiling the stories of the physical markers and historic sites of Kcymaerxthaere. Eames has launched an Indiegogo campaign to translate the stories into myriad languages and distribute those translations to libraries and schools in the communities those host Kcymaerxthaere installations!
Kcymaerxthaere: The Story So Far (Indiegogo)
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Up in the manicured hills of Los Feliz, a neighborhood that boasts at least three famous murder houses, the one with the weirdest history may be the Perelson house... where, deep in the night of December 6, 1959, a husband and father of three lost his fragile grip and went terribly, shockingly crazy. But the story only starts there.
Why did Harold Perelson snap? What does it mean when, without warning, the safety of a family home is shattered from within? And how do you explain what's happened to the house since?
This week on HOME: Stories From L.A., a mystery that's endured for almost 60 years, and the crime that set it in motion.
Thanks for listening. And if you like what you hear, please subscribe. Read the rest
[I'm a huge fan of Bill Barol's podcast, HOME: Stories From L.A. It's the first podcast Bill has produced, and he knocked it right out of the park. HOME is one of the best narrative podcasts I've ever listened to. If you haven't listened to the six episodes from the first season yet, you are in for a treat. I'm very excited that for its second season, HOME has found a home in the Boing Boing podcast network. Thanks for sharing your work with Boing Boing's audience, Bill! – Mark]
HOME: Stories From L.A. asks the questions: What do we mean when we talk about home? And what does it mean to be at home on the edge of the American continent? In Season 1 we looked at the midcentury house on a hill where a forgotten genius from Hollywood's Golden Age lived out his last years; the empty spot on a Hawthorne street where Brian Wilson first dreamed of the harmonies that would make The Beach Boys great; the chicken magnate who's trying to keep a desert town on the old Route 66 from vanishing; the wandering that led an ex-Buddhist monk to the tech sector of Venice Beach; what it means, and what it meant, to grow up in the San Fernando Valley; and the fight to keep a venerable old Hollywood apartment building weird.
This week, to kick off Season 2:
When an elderly parent dies after a long life of lovingly acquiring things, she leaves behind more than memories for her kids. Read the rest
Read Maria Konnikova's gripping article about con artist Sammy Azzopardi, whose new identities and wheezes seem impervious to detection until a technical fact or failing becomes impossible to ignore. Azzopardi's gift, Konnikova writes, is a perfect combination of narrative insight and total lack of scruples. She knows exactly what will trigger empathy, and exactly how to exploit sympathy.
Con artists lie for a very specific reason: personal gain, financial or otherwise. They lie to set the play in motion, so that they can gain your confidence and then lead you down a reality of their making. And their lies are believable, whereas a pathological liars’ are often too big and elaborate to be taken seriously. Azzopardi lied in a very deliberate fashion: she took advantage of a social taboo. She ventured into an area so rife with emotion that to lie about it would be to betray our trust in humanity.
The remarkable thing seems to be that no-one will jail her. Despite many convictions, she receives suspended sentences (and new passports) over and over again, then walks out and hits the next mark. Read the rest
At Wired, our Laura writes about the emerging media cycle surrounding rape scenes in TV shows and the euphemistic bullshit used to justify the bottom-shelf storytelling they embody: "If you’re a woman in media, you’re basically the sexy Halloween costume of human beings in a world where Halloween never ends." Read the rest
Foxxfur has published "The Theme Park Trope List," a first approximation attempt to summarize the narrative gimmicks used in theme park attractions to move the action along, for example, "the book report ride," which "shows exactly the same events which occurred in the source film in the same order."
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James Renner on the modern answer to classic Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks
"The Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses
(BAH!) is a celebration of well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect evolutionary theory" — in other words, it's a festival dedicated to the ability to bullshit in a plausibly scientific way. And it sounds fantastic. If you're in Boston October 6th, you should totally go. But you'll need a ticket. They're $5 for MIT students, $10 for non-students. Read the rest
John Walker argues, irrefutably, that games are a great place to tell stories
: "There are some who have argued that games just aren’t the right medium for telling stories. ... But this argument is entirely flawed, failing to understand that gaming is home to a completely new form of storytelling, and one that is perhaps more potent and powerful than any other." [Rock Paper Shotgun] Read the rest
Yesterday was Mother's Day in the US. I spent the day at home in Los Angeles, still recuperating from chemo, gearing up for the next phase of my cancer treatment. After I called my mom on the East Coast to wish her a happy Mother's Day and thank her for all she has done, I shared a few thoughts on Twitter about moms and cancer. I invited my followers to do the same.
One by one, 140-character-length tributes came in about moms who survived cancer, moms who helped their kids through cancer, and kids who lost their moms to cancer. I retweeted a few, then a few more, but—they did not stop. A flood of personal testimonies to the power of motherhood in relation to cancer followed. I read every single one, and tried to share every single one with my followers.
Josh Stearns kindly collected many of them into a Storify: Mother's Day Memories of Love, Loss and Living With Cancer. It's embedded below.
Above, a photograph of me and my mom, the day before one of my chemo infusions. I draw a lot of strength from my mom. And you need all the strength you can get to get through this thing.
She adds a tribute of her own today:
My Mom died of melanoma (skin cancer) at 54. Her doctor never knew it was cancer until the autopsy. All of us (3 girls, 3 boys) still carry her spirit in our hearts.
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In the wake of Mike Daisey's exposure as a fabulist, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human arrives at the perfect moment. The Atlantic's Maura Kelly examines Jonathan Gottschall's argument that storytelling's deceptions emerge from deeply human needs:
When we tell stories about ourselves, they also serve another important (arguably higher) function: They help us to believe our lives are meaningful. "The storytelling mind"—the human mind, in other words—"is allergic to uncertainty, randomness, and coincidence," Gottschall writes. It doesn't like to believe life is accidental; it wants to believe everything happens for a reason. Stories allow us to impose order on the chaos.
And we all concoct stories, Gotschall notes—even those of us who have never commanded the attention of a room full of people while telling a wild tale. "[S]ocial psychologists point out that when we meet a friend, our conversation mostly consists of an exchange of gossipy stories," he writes. "And every night, we reconvene with our loved ones ... to share the small comedies and tragedies of our day."
Regarding Daisey, what I found most upsetting were not the lies about his visit to China, but those about storytelling itself: he lied about the nature of the lies we love. He expected others to accept his claims as journalism, and when exposed, excused this by appealing to dramatic license, to our acknowledgement that stories' truths may be complex and counterfactual.
This wasn't an attempt at rebuilding confidence in the underlying truth of his narrative. In his contempt for storytelling's subtle consensual boundaries, Daisey's only real demand was that all stories be seen as no more truthful than his. Read the rest