by Loren Niemi – March 27, 2022
What do you remember about your favorite fairy tale? The major characters? Three pigs, a wolf… The basic plot? They build houses, the wolf blows the first two down but can’t shake the third. What else? The setting? Where were the pig’s houses? The time of year? Springtime or was it Summer? Who is telling the story?
Ahh, now there’s the first question that needs be asked about traditional tales, and personal tales as well. While most traditional tales are told in the third person (they/them), there is an argument to be made that when told in the first person (I/we) the story has more “energy” and greater emotional engagement. What is the story when told from one of the pigs or the wolf’s point of view?
by Loren Niemi – September 8, 2021
When we posted the description for “The Erotic in Stories” some wag commented that it was “talking about pee-pee” which probably says a lot about his proclivities but nothing about what the workshop actually is. If anything, that comment points out the need for a considered understanding about what eroticism is amid the frequent and casual misunderstandings.
We are not talking about porn. We are not talking about cliché. We are not even talking about the ordinary images of bare-chested hunks of Romance novels or the prominent busts of femme fatales of Detective/Crime covers, though they may claim it.
by Loren Niemi – August 7, 2021
In America we are used to stories that begin, “Once upon a time…” It is familiar and recognizable. What follows is not here and now, but some other place, some other time in which, as often as not, magic and adventure are possible. What follows is a story that proceeds to an ending which, as often as not, concludes with “Happily ever after.” It takes us out of that other time and place and returns us to the here and now. This too is a metaphor that all is well, that the world turned upside down has been righted.
“Once upon a time” and “Happily ever after” are not the only beginnings and endings of stories. There are dozens, hundreds, of culturally specific beginnings and endings but all serve the same purpose to mark a departure from the here and now into another realm. Why? It is easy to see the utility of those formula beginnings and endings in traditional stories. They are a shorthand that lets the audience suspend judgment, and enjoy the lessons, values, modeling of behaviors that are contained in the entertainment, that is the story.
by Loren Niemi – June 30, 2021
John Barth (an author not much read outside of Academic enclaves these days) said: “The story of your life is not your life; it’s your story.”
I am in agreement with him on that point. The stories of my life are usually more interesting, and perhaps more meaningful, than the life that gave rise to them. I can tell over 400 stories about my life from age 5 through last week. Each of them is a mix of memory, emotion, fact and (for the sake of honesty) craft, that makes the story as Elizabeth Ellis and I often say in the Difficult Stories workshop: “truthful and artful.”
But let me elaborate on this point in relation to difficult stories in general and the Difficult Stories workshop in particular.
by Loren Niemi – June 19, 2021
There is a story I tell about camping with the boy scouts in my youth. At one point after the meal of bacon, beans and burnt potatoes, the scoutmaster has us assembled around a fire and begins to tell us a series of ghost stories. Each is more horrible than the one that preceded it and I say, “If this is the place where the insane killer slaughtered all those boys, why are we here?”
His reply was, “Niemi, you just don’t get it, do you?”
But I did. Even then I realized two things about ghost stories told around the campfire. The first that no matter where you are, some dreadful spilling of blood and guts took place. The location doesn’t matter, the story doesn’t change. It is always supposed to make you look around wondering, WTF will happen next? The second thing is that these stories are only as scary as the audience’s willing participation. No matter how we ratchet up the BG&G (blood, guts & gore) if the campers are unwilling to suspend their disbelief, unwilling to see themselves in the situation, the stories cannot offer thrills and chills.