Kat: Story Tellers: One Plus One Equals Three?

truthDuring my road trip through Arizona last month, I discovered an art form developed by the Pueblo Tribes called the “storyteller”—hand-painted clay figures that visually represent the Native American storytelling tradition. This post began life about these charming figures, but during my research I was waylaid by a video by a great storyteller–Ken Burns.  I decided to share it instead. Unlike his films, this video is short. Like his films, it’s also powerful.

Ken Burns on Story.

One of the things Ken Burn believes is that “all story is manipulation”. I took a mental step back at this idea since most readers claim they don’t want to be manipulated (or at least, they don’t want the manipulation to be obvious). Do you agree that all story telling is manipulation? If it is, is that good or bad?

Look for my post on Native American visual celebrations of story telling (pottery & jewelry) next week.

2 thoughts on “Kat: Story Tellers: One Plus One Equals Three?

  1. I do think story is manipulation, but like Ken Burns said, in a good way. The storyteller wants to hold the interest of the audience, so the storyteller chooses how to present the elements: which parts to play up, which parts to play down. Which parts (the boring parts) to skip altogether. The goal is to build a crescendo and sweep the audience along in a memorable and emotional experience. The storyteller is the architect of that experience.

    I think there’s bad manipulation, too: kill a puppy or a child in your story to make me feel bad. I might cry, but I’ll hate you for it.

  2. I agree with Kay: bad manipulation – aka emotional blackmail of the reader – can cause book-throwing and never-reading-that-author-again reactions. In our McD classes, we specifically talked about the impact of having a character die on the page. The general consensus was that it had better be for a damn good reason, NOT just to cause an emotional reaction or spur action in the MC or to shock the readers. And then the author has to deal with the fallout, or once again, readers will be left feeling negatively manipulated.

    As for overall storytelling, especially in fiction, I think every choice we make as authors is, in some sense, a manipulation. Without the author ‘pulling the strings’ of characters and plot, there’s no story. The trick is to do it in a way that satisfies (most) readers instead of angering them, unless inciting anger is your goal.

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