3 Lectures That Will Help You Tell Better Stories

Posted by on Jan 14, 2013 in Resources, Storytelling | 12 Comments

White Chalk

Feeling that your storytelling needs a kick in the pants? Here are 3 free lectures on YouTube that kick me hard.

Kurt Vonnegut’s “Shape of Stories”

Kurt Vonnegut is one of the most famous writers of the Internet age. Never mind that he died in 2007 – he’s everywhere right now. The body of work he left behind is of such an incredible volume and density that we’ll be unwrapping and chewing it over for decades. (For anyone longing to create a similarly weighty body of work, his daily routine is an eye-opener).

What was so magical about Vonnegut’s ideas was how simply he conveyed them.

As seen in this short video, one of his performance trademarks was taking the world’s most popular stories and putting them on a graph: Good Fortune/Ill Fortune for one axis, Beginning/End for another. (Apparently he ended some lecture by drawing the curve for ‘Hamlet’ as a straight line, before announcing that Shakespeare was a bad writer).

Why This Matters

His delivery is sardonic, but his facts are dead-on. We’re driven by these curves. They work. Whether they reflect real, messy life is one for the philosophers, but we think they do, and so we get a thrill when we follow them – and a bigger thrill (that can easily turn to disillusionment) when they don’t go the way we expect. Writers understand these broad curves in an instinctual way. Kurt Vonnegut  said “nuts to instinct” and wrote them down. That’s why we love him.

Neil Gaiman’s Commencement Speech

Neil Gaiman has written children’s books loved by adults, adult books that make people feel young again, graphic novels no child should ever read, and an episode of Doctor Who in which, after 33 seasons, the show’s other main character is given the voice she deserves. He’s also the writer of HBO’s next big thing after Game Of Thrones. But the biggest splash he made in 2012 was a commencement speech he gave to the graduating class of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He talked quietly, wryly and compassionately about the struggles of being an artist, and in doing so he spoke to everyone watching – everyone.

If there’s something you want to do with your life, and you’re finding it an uphill battle (that’s everyone, right?) then you will get something from watching this speech.

Why This Matters

Maria Popova summarises it here.

Andrew Evans  –TEDxDanubia 2011 — “Open Road, Open Life”

Andrew is National Geographic‘s ‘Digital Nomad’, circling the globe in search of adventure and using social media to tell his stories. In this TEDx lecture he starts by explaining how he got to Antarctica. [SPOILERS] His method? Simple.  He just collected his belongings, left his home in North America, and kept going south until he ran out of land. [SPOILERS END] An incredible story about the power of slow & steady travel, and of the life-affirming experience of entrusting yourself to an uncertain future in the hope that it all turns out well.

But for me, it’s the second half of the lecture that’s the real pant-kicker here.

Why This Matters

Andrew travels the world and records what he sees. He’s a terrific storyteller – but his method of telling travel stories isn’t the traditional one, where battered notebooks filled with scrawled notes are processed into nice, neat Kurt Vonnegut style story curves. He doesn’t give himself that rewriting, rescripting time. Instead, he trusts that the real-world experiences he finds will be great stories without the need to massage the facts in any way, or impose an artificial structure on them. He takes what happens and conveys it to his audience as best he can, as quickly as he can, using all his communicative expertise. The result? A travel blog like no other – and a travel blog that is packed full of good stories.

Thus endeth the lesson for the rest of us.

What other online lectures have inspired you?
Image: sergis blog
Checked out my free book on storytelling yet? Click here!
  • http://punctuation.wordpress.com punctuation

    Vonnegut’s routine was weak and positively pedestrian compared to the hardcore nightjar yes-I-am-a-writer-why-do-you-ask, no laws apply, butt-kicking, oopsy-I’m-not-a-lunatic-yes-I-am creative flow of the one man firestorm Hunter S Thompson…

    http://www.mentalfloss.com/article/33487/hunter-s-thompsons-daily-routine

    ;)

    • kroben

      @Punctuation: Too bad Jean Carroll didn’t know shit about HST.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      How that man survived to the age he did is a miracle of basic biology.

  • http://www.yeity.com Yeity

    Love how Andrew distinguishes between travel and tourism – “real travel is when you take to the open road and you accept what comes your way”……. like when we got crabs in Thailand. Travel.

    • http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings Mikeachim

      Um…YES. That’s exactly it. Pretty much.

  • http://www.wild-about-travel.com/ Simon

    I thoroughly enjoyed the reading, Mike. I’m always in quest of inspiration and you gave me a lot to look at and think of. Thank you!

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  • http://www.mybeautifuladventures.com Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    I’m SO inspired, thank you!

  • http://www.reasonstogonorth.com Alvina

    Well worth taking the time to listen and watch. Thank you.

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  • http://www.sarahmcelrath.com Sarah McElrath

    Great post. What powerful reminders that creativity is fostered through play, experimenting, taking time and not being afraid to follow and idea or a plot line or a color that might not work–or just might be the most unique thing you have ever experienced.

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