Stop for a moment and think about your favorite fiction novels – those are stories. But so are your favorite television shows, and your favorite movies. Your favorite songs? Those can be stories, too, even if there isn’t a single lyric. Many dances are stories; a painting can be a story.
In the club, we often use the word “plot” or “plotkit” to reference stories created by a Storyteller. This is both misleading and confusing, because plot is NOT story. There can be multiple stories in a plot and multiple plots in story. Stories have a beginning, a puchline/climax and an end. A plot’s element serve as way to further a character’s story.
Why are stories so important?
We humans love stories – and we use them for all sorts of purposes. They entertain, they enlighten, they connect us to one another; they can even be a bridge between generations and cultures. We use stories to help explain the world around us and our place within it.
A storyteller guides the players through a story, this can be a part of game session or take an entire chronicle. When a Storyteller tells a story, they are moving the players through story elements. This advances the groups through verbal interactions and forces them to if the circumstance is right interact with other players.
What is a Storyteller?
The basic answer is that a storyteller is someone who tells stories, but the truth goes far deeper than that. In truth, a storyteller isn’t only telling stories – he’s creating them as well. In the oral tradition of storytelling, storytellers often never told quite the same story twice. Every telling was a little different – details were embellished or left out, new events were added – sometimes this was due to the shifting memory of the storyteller, but sometimes it was purposeful. A storyteller would take what she knew about her audience and re-craft the story in the telling of it to suit them.
Much of the time, a Storyteller will work alone – the writer writes, the artist paints or sculpts, and the Story is shaped by the desires and actions of a single person. But not always. Sometimes, Storytellers work together – either with other Storytellers, or even with their audience.
Storytellers and RPGs
What we do with role-playing games, and especially Live Action Role-Playing, is very much akin to the bardic tradition – like the bards, our stories are not static memorizations. They shift and change, depending on who we are, where we are, and who we are with.
Role-playing games (RPGs), while they are certainly games, are also stories. But ofttimes, the emphasis was more on the gaming aspect, and less on the role-playing and Story aspect. When White Wolf released its very first book, it made a deliberate choice: it chose to not use the typical term “Gamemaster.” Instead, it chose a different term – Storyteller. In so choosing, it shifted the focus away from mechanics and number-crunching into the realm of the creation of Story.
And while the stories we tell during our pretendy-fun times do not have to be culture-shaping or life-changing, our players’ role-playing experience will be much more enjoyable and richer if the stories we tell go beyond the “monster of the week” at least some of the time, into the realm where they evoke emotion and maybe, make them stop and think (even if only for an hour or so at afters!).
The best way to make that happen is to take time to contemplate mood and theme while we’re in the process of creating the story. Here is where we have a head start – the Core books of the venues use, talked about the core theme for the venue. We can then take that core theme, and build upon it, find other themes to interweave with it, and then, looking at those themes, decide what moods will best help our players get into the right headspace to explore those themes and our stories.
Other articles for storytellers to read and watch if they wish to study the theory of storytelling:
- Peter Dunne. Emotional Structure: Creating Story Beneath the plot. New York: Quill Driver Books, 2006. Print
- Robert McKee. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. New York: ReganBooks, 1997. Print
- The clues to a great story. Andrew Stanton. Tedtalk. 2012
- We are the stories we tell ourselves. Shekhar Kapur. Tedtalk. 2009
- Video: Steven King speaks about how he gets inspired. Steven King. Paranormal Travels. 2013
- Steven King. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner, 2000. Print