By Limor Shiponi
I borrowed the headline from an anecdote David Campbell once told me. As I recall, “It’s the pace. It’s the pace.” was the conclusion a fan of his came up with, upon wondering what makes David’s storytelling so satisfying.
Pace is critical to storytelling. From the beginning of G’s journey, we know he has a difficulty with pace. When telling personal stories, the pace issue doesn’t pop-up as a disturbance. He is a very energetic person so a high voltage style in the personal genres seems natural; but not when it comes to other material or softer personal texts.
Folktales impose pace related explorations; you have no chance of escaping the subject if you are serious about storytelling. Therefore, confrontation between G and Rapunzel become evident as we proceeded. “At times I feel I’m rushing like crazy, at other times I feel I’m lost in space,” complained G. “I know timing is critical but I have no idea around what I should do with this thought”. “Is it a thought or a feeling?” I wanted to know. “A feeling really,” said G, “I’m in a terrible hurry most of the time. It’s a long tale, I don’t want to bore the audience. I have a task to conclude and I want to conclude it”. “You mean telling tales become a ‘job to finish’?” I charged him. G looked as someone who realized something he wished he would never realize.
Why do you want to tell stories to people?
I asked G that question; a question any storyteller should ask himself occasionally.
“At the beginning I had a couple of stories I thought I could tell rather well so I wanted to tell them. Then I met the opportunity to learn storytelling and I did. I studied for two years, assembled a program, and actually achieved what I wanted – to tell my stories to an interested audience. As proceeding, I realized the power of storytelling and I wanted to do more. I collected more stories, told more people but haven’t reached the point I can say I have it and enjoy what I have. I’m still learning and I enjoy learning. Learning become a way of life for me and learning storytelling has opened new opportunities for learning.”
“You told me the answer to a different question. The original was ‘why do you want to tell stories to people?’ Do you have an answer to that question? Look for it, see if you can find one.”
“I’m destined for learning, solving issues within myself, finding peace of mind and communicating it with other people. Telling stories is about true learning, enjoyable although not necessarily easy, it’s truthful. By telling stories, I can do good and learn together with my audiences, other people, it is how I learn best. That’s why I want to tell them stories,” concluded G, looking content. After some pondering he added, “You can’t push learning, can you? You need a degree of complacency. I want to reach that place, to be more flexible.”
Yet as G learned through trial and error, flexibility is not exactly “to do whatever I feel like”. There are frameworks you need to put in place or else you are bound to get lost internally, which will reflect on the outside.
Know the palette before becoming an “artist”
I served G a blank page and a pencil and asked him to sketch a representation of Rapunzel, a simple symbol. “Obviously a tower with a long strand of hair dangling from the window,” he said. He sketched with attention to perspective so the tower will look tall and researched the possibility of drawing the strand of hair as described – golden like a sunray. It took time and he was not satisfied. Eventually he said, “OK. Not perfect but that’s what I have”. I pulled the page over and in three seconds sketched a taller rectangular tower, a small window close to the top and a long, wavy line with a ribbon close to its bottom. “Ah,” scorned G, “that’s kids’ stuff”. “Kids draw the important information. When they start adding details it is because they can see more details, but unless something in their environment is wrong, they know what’s important to make a point.”
I asked G to take this idea – drawing like a kid – and use it while sketching all the characters and places in Rapunzel on a small piece of paper. After he did, we went back to the story, only this time I asked for a ‘lean’ telling, keeping only the very important information, while leaving out the rest. He got lost after the first phrase realizing he didn’t have a real tool to discern what was important or how to tell that important stuff in his own words.
Suggestions? Practices? How is all this connected to pace?
Next What’s important in a tale?
5 thoughts on “It’s the pace. It’s the pace.”
This sketching in simple drawings is a very powerful tool – Ben Haggarty taught us all to map out entire story like this, as an effective way of learning the bare bones, what is essential and what isn’t.
I believe you can’t really sensibly think about pace until you’ve been through this process, as a part of the adjusting of pace has to do with what you put in and what you leave out.
An exercise that I’ve found helpful (again, from Ben I think, but don’t know if he originated it) is to divide the whole up into a number of smaller stories (it seems important to distinguish these by giving them titles…’the story of the king and his daughter’…’the story of the princess’s problem’…etc etc) and consider each of these on it’s own merits. This really helps with overall structuring (and hence pace) and in identifying the key elements at each point along the way.
Another thing that can help is to identify and practice different types of language – action (fast paced), description (slows the pace down often to a standstill) and comment (somewhere in between)
I love these ideas. They come from an understanding of the connection between structure and pace, like in music and architecture. In addition, I realize there is an interesting opportunity here: to connect the online discussion with G’s offline training in a reciprocal way, since I can bring back over here what happened. I haven’t mentioned this yet, but G asked me to read to him what I write after each lesson. It’s a reflection on a reflection. What I write is more in the form of a crafted story, leaving out details relevant in face-to-face interaction, some too private to share or too local-culture to translate. Listening to what is happening with him through a witness helps him observe the process from another point of view. I’m going to try these ideas with him and report back. Thanks!
Could be compared with the tempo in filmmaking, especially in the editing room as a laboratory where juxtapositions are built between the characters, landscapes and environments … where to make the cut? Why this close up here? are questions that determine the pace.
Hi Ricardo, great comparison, thanks!
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