British photographer, novelist and awardwinning journalist Will Storr chats with workshop participants.
A new masterclass sets out to infuse depth in Thai storytelling through a series of lectures
STORYTELLING HAS been around since time immemorial. Just think of the series of cave paintings in the French Pyrenees created between 15,000 and 13,000 BC, the epic of Gilgamesh that dates back to 700 BC, Aesop’s fables, penned around 200 BC, not to mention the Ramayana and local fairy tales from around the world. Stories are with us no matter where we are – they’re in newspapers, magazines, books, on TV and the Internet and on our mobile phones.
A day without a story would be unimaginable.
“The human brain is a natural storyteller,” says Will Storr, British photographer, novelist and award-winning journalist during the two-day workshop “Secrets of a Master Storyteller”.
The workshop was the first in a new masterclass series on Media and Communication, a collaborative programme between the British Council and Mahidol University International College.
“We came up with the idea of a workshop on storytelling because it’s one of the biggest problems in Thai media. Look at our soaps, documentaries, movies, music videos and even the news. Everything is picture perfect: there are beautiful scenes, nice photos and great productions but the stories have no depth. They are flat and hardly credible. Our aim is to tackle this problem and encourage media people to better their storytelling skills. We are really lucky to have Will Storr here for the workshop,” says Asst Prof Dr Wankwan Polachan, programme director of Media and Communication Studies at Mahidol University International College.
Patcharawee Tunprawat, head of Arts and Creative Industries at the British Council, adds that the programme is designed to build the capacity of young professionals and students in the local media and communication fields. There are plans to invite other British journalists, writers and directors to Thailand to share |their experience and knowledge.
Storr, whose interest in the science of storytelling was piqued while he was writing his first novel, says he began by reading books on storytelling and the way stories should be structured.
“Those books are written by story scholars not scientists. They study stories from around the world and see what works and what doesn’t work and tell you how to construct a story. But my experience as a journalist taught me that’s not the case at all.
When I interview people, they automatically tell their stories without knowing anything about how to construct a story. They tell a story in a certain way. They construct their stories in a certain way. That made me realise that the brain is the automatic storyteller, the natural storyteller,” he explains.
“Cause and effect is how the brain works. It is so much like how we write a story. One cause and effect leads to another cause and effect. And those causes and effects should trigger emotions to keep the reader’s attention. The brain will find the cause and effect; it always tries to find a connection between things.
“Nerve cells respond vigorously to new stimuli so we need to engage the brain when we tell a story. Specificity is the shortcut to make the brain think and react.”
Storr elaborates on his points by quoting excerpts from John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”, Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” as well as the more contemporary novel by Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl”.
“Crisis transforms the character. The sympathetic hero is struck by crisis, struggles to control the world and then transforms into a better person. Man has many different selves in different situations. You must show the different facets of the characters. When you are writing, it is very important to look into details. Look at your character and think about whether he or she is an extrovert or introvert, how he/she is trying to manipulate the world and so on.
“A good example of a character trying different ways to control the world is found in fairy tales. A fairy tale is the embryo of the story. It is basic. In the story of ‘The Three Little Pigs’, for example, the first pig builds a house with straw, the second pig builds a house with sticks and the third pig builds a house with bricks. The first two pigs fail but the third one is successful and they get rid of the wolf. The grown-up story would roll all three attempts into one person,” Storr explains.
“The details about the character might grow thicker as you write the story. The reaction of your character towards a crisis might very well change from the first draft as you get to know him or her better as you write. We are pulled around by the situation we are in. Always come back to ‘what’ your character would do in that situation. Let the behaviour of your character drive the story. It is going to be believable too.
“What we have here is like a cheesecake recipe. If you follow the recipe, you will make a delicious cheesecake but a good story is about character. It is about people – what he or she is going to do, what kind of person he/she is going to be.”
When asked for the secret of storytelling, the journalist smiles and says, “The ultimate secret of storytelling is that if you are in the possession of a human brain, you already are a natural storyteller. You already are a great storyteller. You know the good story and that’s how we live our lives. You have already known how to write a good story because you, as the person, are a great story.”
Beautifully said. Now all we have to do is to transfer that to paper.