Tag Archives: Craft

Reimagining Traditional Stories

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?

That is what the Reimagining Traditional Stories class is all about. Over the course of three hands-on 90-minute Zoom sessions Wednesdays, March 30, April 6th and 13th. From 7:00 – 8:30 PM Central time we will explore what happens when you change the point of view, the time frame and even where the story begins and ends. Bring a story you want to work on and see how what you thought the story is/was takes on a new vibrancy as you work with the tools for reimagining the familiar.

This is being taught by Loren Niemi, the American School of Storytelling’s founder and principal teacher. With over 43 years as a professional storyteller, 26 years of teaching the craft at Metro State University, and the author of two books on story structure (The New Book of Plots, Point of View & the Emotional Arc of Stories) he knows of what he speaks.

It’s $120 for the series and begins this Wednesday with an option of a discounted cost for additional individual coaching after the three sessions. Register for this one at Eventbrite.

How Erotic is that?

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.

I will suggest that the Erotic is the “spell of the ordinary,” that is to say, it is the particular combination of the emotional and the physical in a particular time and place. The effect of light and shadow, taste, smell, sound which carries or invites emotional connection. It is both what is present in an appeal to the senses and what is withheld, that which is suggested. That suggestion is precisely why, in most instances, it is not porn which is explicit.

The focus of the two sessions of “the Erotic in Stories” with Loren Niemi and Laura Packer, will be on how to find/select/craft the erotic in personal and traditional stories. How to create the right details to invite the audience to make their emotional connection to the story or the characters in the story. We will also take a look at the use of metaphor which can be a powerful tool for casting a “spell”. For the participants, whether you choose to reinvigorate traditional material or flesh out a personal story, this hands-on workshop is just that – you working on your material to enliven the story.

Register today

Woman smoking on couch

Forgetting the Middle for a Moment

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.

With personal, literary and contemporary stories, how we begin is more problematic. Those old formulas don’t work or don’t work as well. What we need is a start that does two things simultaneously: provides an invitation for the audience into the world in which the story takes place and sets the tone for what follows. A strong image or a particular action is called for. To use a fishing image, we need to set the hook as soon as possible. Sometimes the storyteller needs to provide some context but the danger is that we offer too much background or wind up talking about the story rather than tell it. Often we forget that we can begin with the moment the world is turned upside down or an invocation of time and place that sets that hook, and fill in the background as the story proceeds.

How we end the story is also problematic when we are not using a traditional formula. Here the central question is where or what do we want the audience to have when the story ends. Emotional satisfaction? A good laugh? A question? A hunger for more? An implied moral? On that point, let me beg you not to end a story with an explicit moral. If you are pointing out the lesson, either you distrust the audience’s intelligence to draw their own conclusion or distrust your ability to demonstrate within the story what the “moral” is. Depending on what we want the audience to be left with will determine where the story ends. Even then, it is helpful to have a strong or satisfying image that marks “done” rather than sputtering to a stop or as is the case with many slam stories, coming to an abrupt and unsupported end because you ran out of time.

Both beginnings and ending require careful crafting. It has been said that if you know where you begin and where you end the middle will fill itself in. True enough when you are crafting the whole of the story. Once you decide how to start and have some idea of where you want to end, the decisions about how to get there are structural. A leads to B leads to C or some variation of that depending on the particular plot form that serves the story. Conversely, if you begin with a particular plot form in mind, the possible satisfactory and functional beginnings and endings are finite. It is the choosing and the structuring after, that makes the story live.

Which brings me to the next class from the American School of Storytelling: a class specifically on the crafting of beginnings and endings. Three sessions of hands-on exercises for deciding what kind of a beginning and ending best suits the material you want to tell. Whether you are looking to wrestle a personal story into an engaging tale or reimagine a traditional story without “once upon a time” (or to find a compelling image/invitation into that world after “once upon a time…”) these sessions will give you useful tools to shape the material.

Here is the registration link