(Note: Brownie Points if you get the title.)
Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that not everyone has the same instinctive understanding of the art of storytelling that I do. I’ve studied it, either consciously or unconsciously, for pretty much my entire life and there’s a great deal that I know without knowing exactly where or when or how I came to know it. I am flabbergasted when someone has grammatical errors that aren’t excusable as being part of the spoken language… because I’ve instinctively understood grammar, at least in the conversational style, for so long that it’s not even knowledge anymore. It’s instinct. I’m the same way with spelling to a large degree. There are a few words that give me issues, and I was very nearly grown before I finally figured out how to spell “business” properly. (Trivia note: it was because our code phrase for the family dog’s outdoor jaunts was “Rocky be busy!”) By and large, though, spelling has never really been a problem for me.
But to be honest, I have been reading, and writing, and crafting stories from the time that I was old enough to stand beside my mother at the typewriter and dictate. It got a whole lot easier once I could write them down myself, though. When you do something long enough it becomes something you don’t even have to think about anymore.
Some of my knowledge, I know that I got in a classroom at some point, but which classroom at which point is a mystery to me. For instance, there’s some dramatic differences between the answers you’ll get if you ask storytellers how many plots there are in existence. The oldest answer is that there are exactly two. Comedy and Tragedy, in the Classical sense. For those of us in the modern age, that equates to “Happy Ending” and “Downer Ending”. Does the protagonist succeed or fail?
As a contrast, it’s generally accepted that there is, indeed, a finite and limited list of actual, viable plots and it works kinda like Tropes. There’s the “Love Story”. There’s the “Revenge Story”. There’s the “Hero’s Journey”. I think, and I could very well be mistaken on this because I haven’t actually done any research to look this stuff up in the past twenty some odd years, that there are about sixteen of them. They have set events that need to take place, and those events need to take place in a certain order… though in literature, like in the Matrix, the rules can be bent… or even broken if you know what you’re doing.
Those who Choose Option C, though, say that the number of plots is limitless in number… but what they’re actually talking about at that point isn’t Trope-like “Plots”, but the way those Tropic (long “o”, not short one, it’s a variation on “trope”, not a description of a climate or one of the geographical areas on maps) outlines are woven and twisted into what forms an individual story. That’s when things start getting complicated as all hell and the proverbial excrement can hit the proverbial air circulating device if a storyteller loses control or miscalculates somehow.
I have built some complicated plot webs in my life, and they can be fun as all heck if I’m able to keep things going like I’d want. It’s part of the reason that the mammoth project that became The Firebird’s Daughter went a whole 76 chapters before it finally crashed and burned because of backstory revisions. I’d like to do it again, but heck… that’s the undertaking of a lifetime, to be honest.
Once, I actually made conscious use of a specific variation on one of those sixteen plots (I *think* it was… Revenge Story with a Downer Ending, otherwise known as the Blood Tragedy, or more commonly, the plot that Hamlet uses). In any event, I have the outline for it still sitting in my documents files, five Acts with all the bases covered. I probably won’t actually *write* that story because it’s there for reference more than anything else. It’s actually used as… well, as background filler for a massive world setting that I’ve been building for a number of years. It’s that world’s version of the play Hamlet, in fact. Maybe someday I’ll clean up the outline and put some more details into it and simply make it available as a summary.
Part of the reason I’m rambling about Plot at the moment is because I’m struggling with some severe frustration in my life, along with a massive sense of my own inability to accomplish anything. I’m trying to distract myself long enough so that I can calm down and move forward. And then there’s the fact that I have this brain full of random trivia and encyclopaedic knowledge that I feel like it’ll just burst if I don’t share it with someone, anyone.
I think it’s my heritage to a degree… I’ve got educators and scholars on both sides of my bloodline going back at least three generations… including me. I don’t know about my paternal grandparents’ parents. My mother is an archivist and a scholar. Her mother was a college professor and an incredibly accomplished scholar. My mother’s father taught high school science. My father was a professor at Notre Dame until the day he died. His father was a Professor Emeritus at Brigham Young University and sadly he has passed as well. My father’s mother taught Home Economics… if I remember correctly. One of my father’s sisters and my mother’s sister were a teachers as well. I grew up with the assumption that I would follow the family tradition.
I guess this is as close as I’ll ever get to teaching, though. Still, the fundamental drive is there, the need to share knowledge and to cultivate learning.
My father studied Dinosaurs; I write about Dragons. My mother archives historical documents; I fabricate them for worlds of my own creation. My grandmother was a linguist and a scholar of languages and a genealogist; I study languages so that I can create unique ones for worlds of my own devising and I populate those worlds with bloodlines that I carefully document in family trees.
Sometimes the same drives and instincts don’t present in the same way as they pass from generation to generation, but I look at what I do and I look at what those who came before me did… and there is no doubt in my mind that I am the product of their ambitions. Their work continues through me… I just go about it in a different way.
I know what I am, though. I know what makes my relatives do what they do and why I do it as well. I’m a Bard. I might not sing, and my attempts at learning to play various instruments were doomed to utter failure, but I follow the Bardic Tradition. Language and storytelling; entertainment and education. These are the things that Bards do because they cannot help it. It’s what they are. It’s who they are.
And it’s who and what I am.
As a culture, we suck HARD at deciphering where a child is most strongly gifted. Everyone has areas where they are more gifted than others. Ways of looking at things that make them better suited for some endeavors and not others. I am not made for science, nor am I made for construction, though I dabble in those areas as needed for my true work, the creation of worlds and the characters and stories to inhabit those worlds. I was one of the lucky ones. I realized early where I wanted to guide my steps and I approached the entirety of my education from that standpoint.
It left me with fewer options in some ways, but what I do, I know that I’m good at.
Not everyone can do what I do, just like I can’t do what others can. It’s one of the glorious things about individuality. We aren’t the same. We’re different. And that’s a good thing. I just wish that more people could find their paths early in life, secure in the knowledge that they’re doing what they’re gifted at doing and can freely dream of reaching for the stars because they’ve got the foundation to make it possible.
I need to write more. I start falling apart emotionally when I’m not writing, and I haven’t been writing well for far, far too long. I need to do something with this stalled chapter of The Firebird’s Daughter. I need to introduce what readers I have to some of the other worlds that have been spinning in the back of my head. I need to do what it is that I do, what it is that I know so well that I don’t even know how I know it anymore, so that I can feel that accomplishment, that fulfillment that comes from following my true purpose in life.
And I have a feeling that means going back to the building blocks of any story. Characters. Setting. And Plot.
Edit Note: In case you missed it, for the season I added a story to the Short Stories section. It’s an old one, but part of a long-running concept in the back of my mind given my father’s physique and facial adornment… and immortalized in stories lovingly retold at his memorial.