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  • Loren Niemi

Coming This Summer


Did I mention that I have a new book coming out in July from Parkhurst Brothers Publishing? The title - Point of View and the Emotional Arc of Stories - isn’t sexy but it is truthful. There are a couple of ways to think about it. First that it is the companion to The New Book of Plots. If the Plot book was focused on the strengths and limitations of ten narratives you can use in oral and written stories, this one is an exploration of how you flesh out those plots by way of points of view expressed in the past or present tense.

It also takes a look at the emotional arc of stories, which in the seventeen years I spent teaching storytelling with Nancy Donoval, who is the co-author, we came to understand is actually three different arcs that influence each other. There is the arc of the characters within the narrative, the arc of the narrator who is telling the story and the arc of the audience who is reading or hearing it. Each has its rise and fall, each provides a frisson (energy) to the experience of the story.

In the Plot book I used Jack & the Beanstalk as the primary example, utilizing each plot form to tell a version of that familiar tale. There were (are) two values in doing so. The first is to allow comparison. What shifts? What remains consistent from one narrative to another? The second is that it is a basic demonstration that there is not one way to tell a story, but that each one allows, and in many cases, requires, the author or storyteller to think through what is the story being told.

In Point of View the example that runs from cover to cover is Little Red Riding Hood. Mostly because I love that story and it lends itself to telling from multiple perspectives – Mother, Red Riding Hood, grandmother, Wolf, Woodcutter, or the traditional 3rd person narrator. Every one of those voices is present as examples but even if the story they tell is familiar it is clearly not the same one.

And as with the Plot book there are exercises for building points of view and the world in which the characters of your story live.

On another somewhat related track, I've been thinking about my definition of storytelling as the conscious shaping of a narrative for an audience. I recognize that there are two variations on that - the literary in which the author, screenwriter or playwright crafts a fixed text that a performer or book, movie, etc. then presents as created. The other is oral which is spoken in the moment and of necessity variable from one presentation, one audience to another.

I am reminded of what Fellini said about telling stories: “I’m a liar, but an honest one. People reproach me for not always telling the same story in the same way. But this happens because I’ve invented the whole tale from the start and it seems boring to me and unkind to other people to repeat myself.”

Both the fixed and the moving require a bit more explanation but the point I want to make here is that I appreciate the former and love the latter. When you read the Plot book or Point of View, the stories they contain are fixed and in some sense incomplete, because I do not know how you take them in. In fact by shaping the examples I am creating the emotional arc of the characters in the story and my role as the narrator, but I have to guess at yours as the reader. In that guessing I write in hopes that you are enjoying and even arriving at insights about what it means to be human or what matters through the story.

But I understand that if I were to tell any one of them to a live audience (or in these pandemic times via Zoom or FB live or some other digital platform) they would not be told with the same words or rhythms as they have on the page. Why? At the simplest, as I tell them the audience is taking the story in and signaling me back how they are receiving the story. Do I need go faster or slower? Are we all of one breath? Are there smiles or laughs where I hope there to be smiles of laughs? Is the silence one of consideration or unease? Which responses did I intend and which are manifest?

Given my druthers I’d rather teach a live workshop or tell a live story with you in the room. In this plague year, that is a somewhat unlikely to happen. So as the next best thing, get the book when it comes out. Read the book, Do the exercises. If you have questions, get a hold of me and ask away. If you want coaching on the stories you are developing, get a hold of me and we’ll go from there. As much as possible I want to be in conversation with you....