45 to 35: Narrative

There are two main duties of an explorer.

The first is to explore. To seek out the unknown, to find your way to the edge of the map, to peek over the edge of the world and discover what lies there.

But the explorer isn’t remembered for where they reach. The explorer is remembered for what they bring back. Silks and songs that herald grand culture. A pebble of gold and a map with a big, red cross. A sketch and notes describing fertile, unclaimed land.

And so storytelling is in the nature of every great explorer as well.

When the explorer walks off into the mists of the unknown, what she typically finds is chaos. Uncharted terrain and unfamiliar customs, in a world which seems to delight in turning the table on her best laid plans. This is why the unknown exists at all; if traversing it were easy, everyone would be out there already, mysteries clear.

But for one reason or another, life has a way of sticking us in a place and keeping us there, and the unknown has a way of staying unknown. Yet the explorer in all of us is always reminding us of its secrets, always peering for a glimpse behind the curtain.

The storyteller knows this, a fundamental truth upon which she builds her craft. The storyteller plays not just on our desire for knowledge, but on our desire to explore, to discover, to overcome. Even when the passing of knowledge is the ultimate goal, it is usually the journey itself which holds us rapt, plays on our imagination, leads us by the the hand from our daily lives and into a place where we can safely challenge our assumptions and, in the end, see them come together again. As the story leaves us and we return to the familiar, we find ourselves ourselves once again. Yet, the story remains with us, its lessons repeated to us not once, but every time we brush against its web.

The narrative voice is an incredibly powerful tool. A good story is the ultimate biohack, working its way into our heads and sticking there, begging us to re-tell it.

I’m working my way through The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structures for Writers by Christopher Vogler, a modern presentation of the ideas of Joseph Campbell. Probably have a lot more to say on that in the future but lots of thoughts lately coming out of that.