Thursday, January 10, 2013

Creative Storytelling, It's Nature and It's Future

A storytelling entry from The Transom late last year. I'm not a Hobbit fan myself, I prefer Lewis to Tolkien, but I acknowledge his influence and the storytelling points hold regardless of the story. I made similar points most recently about The Avengers
I enjoyed The Hobbit very much. Thinking afterward, I've been struck by how much of the Fantasy/Sci-Fi cultural renaissance of the past two decades is founded in those who read J.R.R. Tolkien in their youth and whose daydreams were inspired by his imagination. The difference between these imaginative stories that make a mark and those that fail to connect to a broader, non-Fantasy audience seem to me to be largely dependent on those stories which have a moral/amoral message as their aim (the stiflingly dull Philip Pullman comes to mind) and those which focus on just creating good stories, where the moral lessons follow naturally from them. Tolkien understood this even before he became as large a figure as he was later in life, writing in 1939: “We make in our measure because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.” This extends beyond the Fantasy/Sci-Fi realm, of course. Consider the aims of Preachy Hipster Jesus Dave Eggers in writing the Matt Damon anti-fracking film which is even getting panned by Mother Jones.  The troubles they had made the story stumble from the beginning: the facts just wouldn’t cooperate with their anti-energy revolution aims.  Thus, Promised Land's big twist is laughable – essentially a bias that all evil people work for evil energy companies.  It’s already become the worst kind of propaganda, which fails to even give support the biases of true believers. Yet what approach do modern conservatives generally use when telling stories – is it the creative storytelling approach, where political ideas are undercurrents, or is it the Eggers approach, where people talk and live in bumper sticker form? Consider: Tolkien was rather obviously a country mouse conservationist, in love with the trees and hills of his island and the halcyon life of the English countryside, and viewing it not just as favorable because of its nature, but as a bulwark of simple honor and duty that may represent a last hope against a postmodern mechanistic view of humanity itself. But he did not write his tale with this as his aim, but something which flows naturally from the stories he tells and the world he creates. (There are lessons in this for those on the right who seem to be aiming at “better propaganda” – instead, why not try telling the stories which are already there, which just aren’t being told by the fading storytellers of a media dominated by graying enterprises struggling to adapt to a new marketplace. People are not stupid, but stories are more memorable than numbers for a reason.)
He's right. Better propaganda is still propaganda. It only lasts as historical artifact, something that only was able to compel or persuade in its own time.

Related: these companion pieces from Dave Swindle and Andrew Klavan on the future of feature length movies discussing that some of the big action sequences that look great on the big screen become filler fluff on a TV, much less an iPad. It seems what—or one of the many things that—Hollywood has forgotten: movies are best suited to short stories. But Swindle and Klavan have gotten me thinking. Some stories do look better when larger than life. What if Hollywood revived the serial? For example, instead of turning each Harry Potter book into a single movie, turn each into a short series. 

I realize that the economics of movie making are set up for blockbusters and inexpensive little movies and TV is cheaper with less upside, but think about Game of Thrones. The series costs so much to make that the seasons contained about half the episodes of a typical series. What if some enterprising Hollywood exec had taken this established fan base of action novels and put the show on the big screen? Would we show up at the theater for 10 hour and a half episodes released at 6 week intervals? Could Hollywood create a bunch of mini-blockbusters for the price of expensive TV? Every time I go to at theater these days, the advertisements and numerous previews suggest an industry that is desperate to keep us coming back. Taking our beloved stories and turning them into badly edited drivel in order to fit the blockbuster profile wears thin. 


Megs said...

Hubby feels like Harry Potter is an excellent example of something that would have been more enjoyable to fans as a serial. Plus, I would be very surprised if there were not enough fans to have made this a profitable venture.

And then there are the DVD sales - the box set would have been expensive and very likely purchased at a great speed.

AHLondon said...

He's right. With the massive fan base, the plot detail and backstory, I agree. I mentioned Game of Thrones. I doubt Twilight would, but mainly because it was never visual. All the mind reading is too hard and slow to translate to visual. I don't think the Hunger Games has a strong enough fan base, but it is an option.