I was watching the movie The Matrix the other day. In the movie Neo is sitting next to this buddhist kid who bends a spoon with his mind. The kid was showing Neo that the rules of the matrix can be broken and are not set in concrete. This is when the kid makes the comment, “There is no spoon.”
I was thinking about this in relation to storytelling. I have come to see that there is no script. I know, I know. People have said it all along and I believed them. But now I see. There really is no script. A teacher may have some structures or a couple of good ideas, but that is it. The script doesn’t exist, it just happens. This is so hard to demonstrate. Most of storytelling is an intuition or a feeling.
I have studied different TPRS “masters.” I am like a little kid collecting baseball cards or something like that. I watch them teach and how they go through the story. What they park on and where they take the story. It is quite interesting how different people do it. And these are only the ones that are available on tape. That would be great if people could somehow get themselves out there on the internet and we could study it. I digress. Besides, only nerds like me are interested in that.
The great thing about these TPRS masters is that there are common core elements. One of them is the way that they reach the hearts of the students to make them feel important and smart. Another is the way that they just improvise almost the whole story.
One TPRS teacher said,
I like to go in w/ a bare bones storyline and some good “ideas”. Just like in the video that you saw, I had some good ideas prepared (Aflak duck was one, I can’t remember others, but I’m sure there were some). I wanted to get those ideas into the story because I knew they were good. I feel that these good “ideas” help make the story come alive, especially if the class isn’t able to suggest any that day.
Ben Slavic quotes Joe Neilson saying:
I asked Joe in Kansas City a few years ago what he thinks of right before starting a story with his classes. He said that he just has a problem, with three locations, for his actor to solve. Then he asks questions and let’s his students shine. Then he brings it all from the ombligo. He doesn’t bring it from the mind. How very wonderful!
However, in my search for quotes on improvising stories I came across this comment by Byron Depres-Berry on Ben Slavic’s blog:
You and Joe–and sometimes even I–and other crafty improvisers can all pull stories out of our…. Bauchnabeln (ombligettes) intuitively NOW because of all the ground-work we put in BEFORE. We know our languages, we have worked at our craft in put in tons and tons of grunt-work that wasn’t improvised, that was planned. A lot of the planning is in our bones now. Improvisation and creativity are begat by sweat. Edison told us that. So does Mihaly Czikszentmihaly (the codifier of the definition of “flow”) in his book “Creativity”.
I never considered this point. There is so much preparation and failing that happens while learning TPRS. Trust me when I tell you that for me it hasn’t been easy. There are some days or moments in classes when you feel like an idiot. Maybe it was just me. In spite of this, I just kept going and got back on the horse.
I guess the idea that there is no script only comes after using a script and having it become apart of your storytelling. It comes after having experience knowing which types of fluency words to give the students repetition on.
I am not there yet, but I want to be. I still have a long way to go, but I am glad to be doing it. The sacrifices that I am making in my classes now [using the script and having it not be as interesting as it could be] will pay off in future classes.