Building Bottomless Backstory

It struck home to me how popular the ‘making of’ movies and behind the scenes fly on the wall documentaries are. Sometimes they outsell the original film. Unplugged and live versions of music can also do better than original recordings.

It’s all evidence of how much we want to know about backstory, the story behind the story.

It’s the stuff of conversations round the water cooler, over a coffee, and often these days outside in the carpark with the smokers.

There are so many well produced, engineered and performed stories around today, there is a thirst for the authentic, for the warts and all ‘journey’ story. Not just the gloss or the gloom.

Great communication today is about knowing your backstory, having it watermarking everything you do. It is giving life to the cliche of transparency, nothing to hide. There is real freedom and real connection in weaving your backstory into your personal brand, the whole of you. Leave no stone unturned. However, at the same time, backstory can be used judiciously, it does not have to be a lifestory that dwells on the ups and downs. Focus on your audience and your intention in telling the story. Then a backstory can add value, and not occur as self indulgence.

Memory Crunch- The Efficiency of Story

I had a great trip to the library today. I was somehow drawn to a particular book, some powerful synchronicity going on, as I was thinking about several themes for my own book in progress, JumpCut.

One book, When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth by Elizabeth and Paul Barber just about jumped off the shelf. It follows a line of thought that has excited me for a long time.

It provides evidence that stories and myths are not just random pieces of fiction and hocus pocus, but very accurate accounts of important events in the history of the world.

The Barbers also talk about how efficient mythology and the spoken word tradition was, to get to the absolote heart of a story, so that it would be long remembered accurately, sometimes for thousands of years.

I love this line of thinking. Stories are efficient. They do get to the point. And as the Barbers point out, western science now proves how stories land in at least three separate areas of the brain. So they are long remembered.

In JumpCut, I am going to explore how juxtaposition is a powerful technique that has been used in storytelling since ancient times too, because the jolt and jostle of well juxtaposed pieces of information, triangulate in the brain.

So many mythologies talk about when earth and sky were seperated, much as western science ow talks about the ‘big bang.’ It is all one and the same, just different languaging.

Teaching Kids via The Simpsons, Not the News

More than  ten years ago I was lecturing journalism students at AUT University in Auckland about the fast changing narratives in television.

I told them I would rather my children watch The Simpsons in prime time that the 6 o’clock news. They would learn more about society, and more about multiple layers of contexts in our world. The sophistocation of a Simpsons script far ouweighted that of the news.  I was commenting too about how so called fiction and so called fact blur in terms of our reality.

I was new to academia and wrote my lecture off the cuff, without much knowledge of theoretic concepts,  having come from an industry rather than academic background. A colleague told me my lecture had been all about postmodernism. News to me. The episode I had discussed had ripped off Rupert Murdoch and his controlling power over global media.

I bumped into a student who had attended this lecture recently at party. Now a senior public relations practitioner, they recounted the story I had told about my kids and The Simpsons. It had stuck with her for a decade.

A key part of the resonance in this case was the juxtaposition of fact and fiction, of a cartoon and a ‘reality’ programme, and the suggestion that ran counter intuitively that the fiction was more factual than the news.

Being Drawn and Being Driven

Juxtapositions are the great power behind our communication as human beings.  Life and death, tragedy and comedy, dark and light; some are opposites, some are contrasts, all have connections.

I was talking with a close friend the other day about motivation, and how sometimes, I do not feel driven to achieve, fulfil, act, succeed. It’s not an overtly bad thing, but sometimes I feel like I am selling myself a bit short. That was the tone of the conversation.

My friend, being insightful, said, Andrew you are not driven to do things, you are drawn to things, ideas and projects.  It was an aha moment for sure.

And an interesting juxtaposition. How much are we driven to do things versus drawn to do them? Both have their pitfalls. To be driven can be relentless and hellbent. Being drawn can be busy chaotic, overcommitted and like floating from one thing to another.

So of course with all wise solutions, a bit of both is the best thing. Driven to complete things, steer a course and keep going, drawn to the right course, and nagivating some where of benefit to oneself and others.

Working the Story Angles

Great stories are about great angles. An angle gives us a ‘way in’ to a bunch of information.

Journalism and advertising have working the angles perfected. We ‘get’ the story in the news and ads really fast, because the angle is sharp. So the focus is sharp.

The key thing about angles too is Juxtaposition. It is what is place next to what, and with what angle. Twist and spin are word that get associated with the angles created for stories; most often with a negative slur.

But the truth is, every time some information is conveyed, the sender brings some element of subjectivity to the way they tell the story. It’s human nature.

If we didn’t have angles for stories, and no juxtapositions, we would have plain unadulterated data,information; perhaps screes of it. With no way to navigate. Angles and juxtapositions give us a way to navigate, just like landmarks.

I’m currently exploring the power of juxtaposition in everything in life; the big stories and the litle stories we tell about ourselves, about our world and our place in it.