offers a lot of built-in thrills, and one of the greatest is the
story we create with each other. Early on, commentators noticed
mankind's penchant for all matters social, and when Aristotle wrote
that man is a political animal, he literally meant that we are
a creature driven to the polis, the city, the place of gathering. With
every reunion come new taleswho did what, where, and with whom.
We live both directly and vicariously. The Romantic cult of the individual
notwithstanding, we are knit together like bees in a hive. The hermit
proves an anachronism among us, as most people make
friends, make families, make stories.
Considering the primacy of our social lives and our apparently unique
gift (on this planet, at least) of language, it's not surprising that
storytellers have long held an exalted role. Poets and raconteurs sing
and sometimes challenge the values and cultural assumptions of a given
people. We don't need to be anthropologists to know how important storytellers
arethey convey our history, give pith to our sense of place and
purpose, and implicitly remind us of the degree to which someone else's
story is also our own.
culture, storytelling is big business. Having spawned the largest entertainment
industry known to mankind, we spin out endless storiesfilms, television
situational comedies, documentaries, news reports, reality tv, and so
on. To the elitist mindset, most of the material is trash grown from
trash: low comedy or low tragedy aimed at low sensibilities through
low appeals (to sex, celebrity, violencein essence all things
tawdry, brief, iconographic, shocking, or banal). I think there's a
lot of truth in the elitist mindset, but even the most discriminating
among us cannot deny that the trend towards democratization in politics,
commerce, and social life has also invigorated the arts. Most of the
finest cultural commentators of our time prove to be as conversant
with high art as with pop art, as at
ease with Dante as they are with Austin Powers.
So why don't
we as students get on the great storytelling ride? It's time, and it's
a skillas well as an artthat might prove useful to you later
on. We'll begin by writing a dialogue between two people. The requirements
are fairly simple.
sure that you create two characters who are, to a greater or lesser
degree, at odds with each other. Maybe their conflict is in jest. Maybe
it's serious. Regardless, there must be some tension between the two.
make sure that your dialogue has a beginning, middle, and end. You may
use narration, but only to introduce the scene. Everything else must
Third, create a conversation that reveals a lot about
the mindsets and attitudes of your two characters. Dialogue is a vehicle
for exposition, the revealing of facts about characters and situations.
As a model, listen to the conversation between a mother and daughter
in The Music Man (below) to see just how much information can
be revealed about a person in a limited space.
Finally, aim for a conflict that is not only BETWEEN two people,
butfor one of the characters at leastWITHIN herself. As
William Faulkner suggested in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the
story that will always engage us is that of the "human heart in
conflict with itself."