Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Storyteller's Art

Last night I took my family to experience my favorite band, Rush.  It was a wonderful experience on many levels.  For one, it was a chance to take my daughter to her first real concert (not counting the bands playing our local Fourth of July fireworks and such like).  It was also the first time I was at a concert with my son, though it wasn't his first concert.

Of course, it was also a chance for me to hear my favorite band in more years than I care to admit.  Haven't gotten a good excuse for some good old-fashioned head-banging fun in years.  Screamed along with the lyrics to many of the songs, loud enough my throat's still a bit sore today. 

But all of that is actually secondary to why I really enjoyed the evening.  This concert was for their new album Clockwork Angels.  Given the title, there was an interesting steampunk vibe to several of the new songs and a lot of the show.  And since I love steampunk, that was a huge plus.

However, that still isn't the real reason.  It was the show as a whole.  The concert began and ended with video pieces that old an amusing and weird story, just as they did with the Time Machine tour.  In fact, many of the songs had their own complex videos weaved in with them. 

The band used all of these elements (video, lights, instruments, vocals, even, for the first time, guest musicians for part of the show in the form of 5 violinists and 2 bassists) to tell a story. 

And that's what made it so amazing, the chance to feel on such a base, visceral level, what I have always known: that they are amazing storytellers.  It's why I list their lyricist and percussionist, Neil Peart, as one of my major influences as a writer.  I've found few writers that can tell a great scifi story as succinctly as "Red Barchetta". An economy of words, but it tells a complete story, including setting up it's dark future.  Of course, their most famous story-song has to be "2112".  Much longer, but it still tells a great story in a minimalist fashion.

And that is why the concert was such an amazing experience for me, the chance to see master storytellers working their craft in a mixed-media format.  It was exhilarating and educational.

I think that sometimes I can get too wrapped up in being a writer, thinking about the page, the words.  I can forget that the point is to tell a story.  Anything in service of the story is gold, anything not in service to the story is dross.  Maybe beautiful and fun and witty, but still dross.

Don't get me wrong, subplots are great, minor characters that play no apparent purpose can be fine to add, even scenes that don't seem to advance the plot.  All these are fine, just like a great song can tell a story, but include long instrumental stretches. 

All these things can be there, but I still have to tell a great story.  Otherwise I've broken my deal with my reader.  They give me their time, attention and  money and I promise in exchange to give them a great story.

For myself, I find that exploring other ways of telling stories, whether music, movies, or even games, helps me get at the message, and get away from the medium.

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