1. Intro: Revolutions in Storytelling
Updated: Jun 1
Storytelling must rebirth its forms to be most relevant now. Audiences aren’t captive anymore and require good reason to be attentive and persist. Our obligation is to make storytelling fresh, approachable, engaging, and in new forms most responsive to audiences. This series is an examination and illumination of the amazing new forms of storytelling that are indicators of how we are evolving in the most fundamental of communications. Audience expectations are evolving in the influence of gaming, social media, performance, and interactivity, and that deserves notice and a fuller look at what this means to this gen storytelling. And we will see the shocking degree of fear among very traditional linear storytellers who cling to the dead hope for outmoded passive and purely absorbing response. We will explore the revolution in non-linear and experiential storytelling that is currently warring with conventional linear in a struggle for a rebirth to regain attention and restore relevancy.
Back in the 1980s I was managing a movie theater in NYC (Loews’s 84thSt., now AMC), a job with the single obvious benefit of seeing a TON of movies, although the managing part was a total nightmare. And on my breaks I would always gravitate to the nearby Shakespeare & Co. Booksellers store.
This bookstore was my oasis, refuge, and comfort, as bookstores have played that role throughout my life. I’d treasure the time spent in the presence of worlds of knowledge with all the books in a brightly lit and placed with loving care in stacks and shelves that proudly blazed alluring covers. This was the panacea and promise of a life far beyond herding moviegoers, tearing movie tickets, cleaning up popcorn, and managing a team of usher misfits.
One arresting cover image appeared in 1983; a red dusk deep orange sunset set next to a pyramid with reflective gold-leaf-like letters that spelt “Ancient Evenings” by Norman Mailer. I was palpitating...this was the long-gestating epic promised over decades, believed illusionary but for this moment held in my hands.
With purpose and unyielding intent I rushed back to my hovel apartment and called in sick. I began reading the novel and was entranced from “The Book of One Man Dead” first section, identifying weirdly with the unnamed and formless narrator who has no idea of who or what he is. Perfect! Threw open the door right off with identity crisis!
It took many dips in and out of Mailers’ extremely dense prose which swung punches of poetic! Scatological! Crude! And flowed with the complex way the story is narrated, writing so stilted as to intimidate then force one to accept halting as the style, no apologies or sympathies. I admired that bold and brash bluster of prototypical Mailer!
Summarize the story? How’s this; Ka of Meni, who while conversing with his great-grandfather’s Ka in the Great Pyramid, remembers a night fifteen years earlier in a night of dusk to dawn storytelling. Menenhetet (relayed by MENI) is the primary storyteller and the bulk of the novel is his recounting of his long long long life.
Or multiple lives. Yes, he has FOUR lives presented in the narrative! He has many careers, each described in its own depth; charioteer, harem master, high priest, tomb robber, brother keeper, papyrus merchant, speculator in necropolis sites, wealthy noble, and pharmacist-magus.
And Menenhetet is 60 years old when he tells his stories in the Pharaoh’s garden. This was Mailer’s age when book was published.
Most of all what nabbed my radical storyteller instincts were the last 3 brief chapters where we learn that Menenhetet attempts to gain a fifth life have failed, after his Sekhu is buried in his great grandson’s tomb, and their Kas proceed to the Duad and observe the punishments.
First as a storytelling theme; reincarnation, multiple lives and the challenge of architecting stories that cross timeframes. That caught my fancy and curiosity; how were the multiple lives to be woven?
Then, a few years after publication, it was revealed that this was the FIRST BOOK and there were others planned in a series. Right on, Mr. Mailer!
In the next blog, we’ll take a look at the plans for these unrealized novels in his planned series. I see these plans as an architecture for a storytelling mechanism that prefigures our current warring between linear and non-linear where we will explore the latest variants and continued experimentation in form, structure, theme, and telling that makes this time of storytelling so dynamic and fundamental to the new way to tell of our lives and dreams!
This series is an examination and illumination of the current forms of storytelling that are indicators of how we are evolving in the most fundamental of communications. Audience expectations are evolving in the influence of gaming, social media, performance, and interactivity, and that deserves notice and a fuller look at what this means to next gen storytelling.
And we will grapple with the surprising degree of fear among very traditional linear storytelling of taking audiences ONLY where the creator directs and in a passive and observing role. This will always have its place, but it is NOT the be all and end all of storytelling modes. We will explore the revolution in non-linear and experiential storytelling that is currently warring with conventional linear.