Written by Rachel Beck
People are no more born great storytellers than they are athletes, programmers, dancers, gamers, or what have you. Talent makes it easier to start, but discipline is what gets you there. It’s common sense that a thing won’t get done unless you, well, do it. Books do not write themselves and I’ve never been part of a film that wasn’t hauled into existence kicking and screaming. What is surprising is the number of amateur storytellers who ignore another basic piece of common sense: you must first consume what you wish to create. You are what you eat.
Good movies also fall into this category, but I’m primarily a writer, so I’m prejudiced. In my experience, filmmakers and GMs struggle with this one less than writers. I’ve known people with dreams of writing trilogies to rival Tolkien who will go months, sometimes a full year, without picking up a good book. Similarly, pay attention to what you’re reading. Read stories that are better than yours. More importantly, read books which are better written than yours. Stay roughly within your same genre during the high season when you’re actually writing, and diversifying in the off season when you’re between books, taking a break, or waiting to hear back from a publisher.
Everyone has a constant, internal monologue in which they provide feedback for themselves about their experiences and their emotions. It’s the story we tell ourselves to make sense of the world. Music is primarily used to manage emotions and, by proxy, internal monologue. Pay attention to the quality of the music you consume. That doesn’t mean listening exclusively to Mozart (though you might be surprised at what it does to your productivity); it’s the message and tone of the music you listen to. Storytellers struggle enough with their self-worth and wondering if the stories they tell are worth anything. Why listen to angsty teen music to exacerbate the problem? Break out “Eye of the Tiger” or something else that makes you feel awesome. I have to wear headphones when I write so my poor husband doesn’t have to listen to “Son of Man” by Phil Collins on loop for hours.
Storytellers must be in community. The nature of stories is that they be shared. Even introverted storytellers need to engage with others. Not only can you refine your own ideas and get fresh energy for them, you also are exposed to new ideas, and reminded of how real people respond, think, act, and feel. It keeps you from becoming ingrown.
Be mindful of what you consume as a storyteller. Don’t become so lost in the inward pursuit of the story that you lose track of the world for which the story is created.