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In Medias Res

It was not a mutiny in the old-time sense, of course, with flashing of cutlasses, a captain in chains,and desperate sailors turning outlaws. After all, it happened in 1944 in the United States Navy, but the court of inquiry recommended trial for mutiny, and the episode became known as “the Caine mutiny” throughout the service.

The story begins with Willie Keith because the event turned on his personality as the massive door of a vault turns on a small jewel bearing.  Caine’s Mutiny by Hernan Wouk.

These are the opening lines for the 1951, Pulitzer Prize novel, which starts the story at the court martial; whereas, the 1954 movie version begins with the 2nd Lt. Willie Keith being assigned to the Caine ship.  The screenplay builds the characters and the causes for the mutiny.  The book novel is a good example of In Medias Res.

Today, I will introduce, “In Medias Res,” or learning how to begin the story in the middle where there is an action or dramatic scene that captures, engages, and motivates your listener to want more.  In Medias Res creates questions.  Questions like, ‘What happened before this?’  or ‘What caused this to happen?’  or ‘Who is he?’  These questions create engagement and capture the audience’s attention.

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cumbelineIn Medias Res is a well establish style of storytelling.  For example, Homer’s Odysseus’ journey already is at the end when the story begins, what happens after this are flashbacks to different points of time, building the story, the characters, and answering the ‘Why’ questions.   William Shakespeare also used this format in one of his plays called, “Cymbeline.”

There are three good reasons for considering the use of In Medias Res.  The first has an advantage of focusing attention to the high point of the story.  A good analogy is on how movie trailers are designed.  They tend to place the audience right into the middle of the action to entice and motivate future ticket sales.  In storytelling, placing the audience in the middle of the action or dramatic scene has advantages.

The second reason gives you an opportunity to seize the attention of your audience.  But what is meant by attention?  The attention here means to engage or to invite a listener along the journey.

The third and what I think is the most important point is it creates questions immediately.  If the next turn on the road can be anticipated there isn’t much suspense.  Suspense comes from not knowing what will happen next.  The middle initiates the action, the beginning explains how we got there, and the end, which we are not sure, still lies around the bend unknown.

First-World-War-so_2786176bOPENING SCENE:   The soldier is writing into his diary his last thoughts before the final battle, he then stops to reflect on his earlier entries as we journey back in time through his memory.  Suddenly, we’re back, the battle begins.  How will it end?   Will the soldier survive? We don’t know. That’s the advantage of In Medias Res.

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The Nested-Loop

In my junior high years, I loved collecting, trading and reading comics.  As kids, we brought our comics to school where all kinds of deals were made for the right story.  But, it was in my last year of junior high when my cousin Joel visited me with a special gift—a book.  He told me that as much as comics were fun to read he thought it was time for me to expand my vocabulary and world while reading science fiction.

s-l640My first book from him, “I, Robot,” a 1950 first edition.  This series was made up of nine stories which I savored every evening.  So popular was Isaac Asimov’s robot stories I continued reading them to Asimov’s passing.  I still have that original “I, Robot” book in my collection.

In more modern times, I have enjoyed stories from James Clavell, Michael Crichton, and Dan Brown.  These authors have a genius for weaving a network of stories into one complete story.  Nested-loop stories are the second classical genres I will be sharing with you today.

I saw Julie Heffernan’s artwork called, “The Scout III” (above) and asked permission to include it in this blog.  She asked me what I saw?  I told her, it reminded me of a storyteller who is creating a nested loop of stories within stories.  She agreed and granted me permission to display her artwork—which I’m most grateful for.

Speakers who perform nested-loop stories, like Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk, have the ability to explain a process while inspiring an audience.  The use of analogies and metaphors are also key in stimulating visual imagery for better understanding and comprehension.  In the end, the authors impart not only knowledge but wisdom, which the listener can pass on to others.  Check out James Burke’s, The Day the Universe Changed, and Connections.”

The nested-loop works like this.  You place your most important story (thought, concept, or idea) in the center and use stories at the beginning to draw your listener in.  The last story finishes the first story and ties in the center story into one neat package.

maxresdefaultWe find a good analogy of a nested-loop in the story of the “Godfather II.”  The story opens with young Vito Corieone witnessing the murder of his father, mother, and brother.  The center of the story covers the boy’s growth into manhood, where he becomes prosperous as both a businessman and a godfather. It ends with the beginning of the story as Vito returns to Sicily to take revenge on his family’s murderer.

stan-lee5Now it’s time for me to end this article, but I need to end it like a nested-loop, somehow bringing the beginning topic of comics through the middle and tying it at the end.  How?  How about—Stan Lee!

Stan Lee is known as the godfather of comics.   Stan Lee’s stories have moved from comics to television, to the silver screen; from movies to the game industry, now to online. Now that’s a real 3D nested-loop!

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Hero’s Journey

Human stories began about 200,000 years ago, before the technology of writing was invented, stories were told and passed down orally.  The oldest recorded written story came out of Mesopotamia.   It was the Epic of Gilgamesh.  The classification of this story is called, “The Hero’s Journey.”

Epic-of-Gilgamesh

 

There are eight classical story themes and the ‘Hero’s Journey,’ is one of the most popular and oldest of all.  The oldest story, “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” was written a little over 4,000 years ago on cuneiform tablets and was taken from oral stories that had been passed down for generations.  Gilgamesh has all the hero action and suspense as in our modern-day stories.

Modern-day stories of a similar hero can be found in: George Baily from ‘It’s a wonderful life’ to Katniss Everdeen in ‘The Hunger Games.’  The hero can be male or female, young or old, rich or poor.  Our character seeks adventures only to find the real story is about discovering his weaknesses and his inner strength.

In the end, we admire the hero for overcoming the obstacles and challenges because our character generally overcome successfully their own physical limitation or disadvantages.  Ben Okri said, “The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection.  Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.”  Harry Potter may be a wizard, but he was still a young boy.  The story is set in a David and Goliath format where a child character is challenged to face adult wizards and mystical creatures.

Every hero finds a mentor-friend along his path’s journey.  Gilgamesh, 6000 years ago, walked with Enkidu, Luke Skywalker finds Obiwan Kenobi, and even Marty McFly has Doc.  In all cases, they somehow lose their mentor along the way.  At the most crucial point our character must face alone his fears and doubts when the challenge, generally a life-death situation, comes upon him.

These types of stories demonstrate the benefits of taking the risks.  Risks can range from losing a kingdom to losing one’s life.  Behind these types of stories there are important characteristics in what makes human successes and human failures.  If the story is well presented, the listener becomes involved emotionally and psychologically drawing from experiences their own defeat and failures.

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Yes, stories allow the listener to travel with the hero, continuing to urge him on or to suffer with him.  The Hero’s Journey is about sharing emotions too!   Our hero may lose a battle but learns how to turn his weakness into the weapon he needs, like in, “The Last Samurai,” where the hero, Capt. Nathan Algren learns a new philosophy—Bushido, the way of the warrior.  This moves this character from a defeated drunk to a national hero.

Finally, the Hero’s Journey demonstrates that anyone can achieve newfound wisdom if they are willing to keep an open mind.  In the end, the Hero’s Journey is about a visual journey of emotions leading the listener to accept his weaknesses while discovering his inner strength.