Narrative or Descriptive?

Last weekend I was a tutor on the FameLab UK finalists’ masterclass, which was a jolly wheeze and wildly intense. They’re a smart and capable bunch, FameLabbers, and we put them through the wringer with storytelling and improvisation exercises, shifting of the performance space to video, then onwards to the weirdly out-of-body experience that was directing others and seeing their own work reinterpreted by their peers. Which was hilarious, apart from anything else.

One of the gang dropped me an email today asking for advice about their piece for the final, which I’ll choose to paraphrase as:

“Should I go for depth and detail, or a simplified overview?”

There’s no correct answer, of course. How well you execute and a modicum of luck play just as large a role as your preparation, deft avoidance of distractions, brisk setting of context, and so on. But for me there are two key thoughts:

The first is that, as a member of the audience, I want satisfying stories. That’s a very personal judgement, but for me those tend to be the ones with smart ideas that point in interesting directions. They might be nuggets of factual information, but they’re just as likely to be about perspective, interpretation, or a general mechanism. I want to be bursting with questions, but I don’t want those questions to be prompted too closely — as my partner Elin puts it:

“It’s not how smart you are, it’s how smart you make your audience feel.”

The second thought — and the core of my reply to the questioner — is: what sort of storyteller are you?

Do you revel in the process and sequence of narrative, driving on a story or spinning a web of information from which a chain of events resolves, suddenly snapping into narrative clarity? Or do you favour description, conjuring a detailed mental image which locates, directs, and focusses attention?

Where you see your strengths as a writer and performer should inform the shape of the work you do. Sometimes you challenge yourself to develop, and other times you play to your strengths.

So: depth and detail or simplified overview? Emphatically not the latter, because if your overview is best described as ‘simplified’ then you’re doing it wrong. Solve that, and either could work — so worry less about your work, and more about who you are.

The best part? The finalists’ email response:



StoryCog is a communication consultancy and film production company; see more about us here, or explore the links above left. The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors, though they're quite likely to represent the company's position too.


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