The Human Story
Being human 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 tales—who 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 are—they 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.

Narrative Lucre
In American culture, storytelling is big business. Having spawned the largest entertainment industry known to mankind, we spin out endless stories—films, 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, violence—in 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.

Make Your Own
So why don't we as students get on the great storytelling ride? It's time, and it's a skill—as well as an art—that might prove useful to you later on. We'll begin by writing a dialogue between two people. The requirements are fairly simple.

Here's How
First, make 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.

Second, make sure that your dialogue has a beginning, middle, and end. You may use narration, but only to introduce the scene. Everything else must be dialogue.

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, but—for one of the characters at least—WITHIN 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."



Click on the images below to access storytelling models.

We will discuss each script in class.