Working on new stories is seductive, preoccupying and very time-consuming! It takes me months and months and months, and longer, to create new material. It starts with a process of researching every version I can find of the story I want to tell. Sometimes I list all the narrative elements and images from all the different versions. By breaking the story down I can begin to make choices about which directions I want the story to go in, and what it is I want to say through my particular telling. Working as part of The Company of Storytellers for many years we coined the term ‘breaking the story down to its bone pattern’ for this process.
It was the Russian formalist Vladimir Propp who evolved the idea in the 1920’s that fairy stories follow a structural pattern. Propp’s analysis gives stories a sequence of ’31 functions’ ranging from absentation (1) when the hero/heroine sets out, through trickery (6) and pursuit (21), to the wedding / reward (31). Joseph Campbell explores similar territory in his ideas of an archetypal ‘monomyth’ which has become part of cultural theory reaching all the way to Hollywood and is constantly being ‘discovered’ (rehashed) in books about screen writing!
Working on the structure of the story is just the beginning! I then need to explore and develop: characters; dialogue; emotions; images; vocabulary; meaning. And then work on: voice; gesture; movement; pace; energy; pauses; rhythm … see you next year!!!
I am currently working on stories for a new performance The Magician’s Apprentice. Its got big Russian fairytale ‘Elena the Wise’ in it. And it explores the archetype of the magician. So both Propp and Campbell are helpful. I am at a very early stage, but I will be trying out some of the stories and ideas on Wednesday 9 July 2014 at Nell Phoenix’s very special club StoryNight at Torriano Meeting House. Come and be a tender, very tender ear.