Storytelling: Nothing

Posted on June 1, 2011


“When I’ve got nothing to say, my lips are sealed./Say something once, why say it again?” – The Talking Heads

Many would-be storytellers stumble over the idea that they have nothing to say. They’ve heard that everything every written can be divided into 10 plots, or a dozen, or a 100. Teachers told them that everything has already been written, and we’re all just re-hashing existing ideas. The would-be storyteller thinks that he (or she) has nothing original to say, and so says nothing. And yet, those ideas don’t stop millions of new books, TV shows, movies, songs, poems, sculptures, paintings, plays, and other mediums from coming out every year. Clearly, somebody is missing a point somewhere.

“No fiction is worth reading except for entertainment. If it entertains and is clean, it is good literature, or its kind. If it forms the habit of reading, in people who might not read otherwise, it is the best literature.” – Edgar Rice Burroughs

You do have something to say. Your life experience, and how you respond to it, gives you a unique perspective. You just have to learn to bring that perspective to your storytelling.

“If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor.” – Edgar Rice Burroughs

You do that by telling stories, whatever your chosen medium. I’ve mentioned before that you have to create crap. Everyone goes through it. You start by creating crap. Over time, you learn the formats for your chosen medium. You learn how to plug your content into your format. You learn the tricks and the rules, and how to break them.

“All I ever set out to do was to tell an entertaining story well.” – Edgar Rice Burroughs

All that crap you create helps you develop something precious: Your voice. It takes time to develop a unique voice. Ask any drill sergeant, and they’ll tell you that the DI voice that they use now is not the one they used when they started. Over time, they learned what worked, and what didn’t, for them. R. Lee Ermey, the iconic drill instructor from Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, didn’t sound that way his first day on the drill field. I didn’t write like this when I started out. Your voice will come out in time, too – but only if you create.

“I was not writing because of any urge to write nor for any particular love of writing. I was writing because I had a wife and two babies . . . . ” – Edgar Rice Burroughs

You have stories to tell. Now get out there and tell them.

Who inspires you?

I like the story songs of Gaelic Storm and the writings of Robert B. Parker. What storyteller inspires you?