I recently realized that anyone who has been a storyteller for any period of time forms a fallback position: a place we go, a formula we use, a method we apply when we simply don’t want to dig deeper or don’t have the tools at our disposal that we would like to use.
It’s something most of us don’t want to talk about, or in my case may not even be aware of, until the right situation presents itself. So there I was at workshop in Nepal on visualizing social stories. And the instructor looked right at me and tossed my way a word so insulting that it rendered me speechless.
Traditional. That’s what he called my edit of a photo project. And I didn’t like that at all. Not one bit. It’s like the creative kiss of death. And that word followed me around for the rest of the day.
It certainly did the trick in motivating me to stay as far away as possible from traditional in the next two days of workshop. I was so afraid of it that I passed on using my camera and stuck solely to iPhone photography and compilation footage from Youtube in order to force myself out of the space I knew. And frankly some of the stuff I made with my team was the opposite of traditional.
I left the workshop feeling good about what I had learned. I came home with a hefty edit ahead of me – a video of a fundraising campaign. And I did what I always do. I laid down the audio track and took a listen. Then I went back to the other materials I had created for the campaign to compare notes.
Guess what word started rolling around in my head? Traditional! It returned to haunt me. The first video I made in the series is technically sound. It tells the story. It has beautiful, compelling footage. But, I had edited it in a patently traditional way. First, use a hook to entice people to keep listening; then introduce the person, show the problem, and ask for action.
Part of the reason I started the year of story and was in this workshop in the first place is because I want to tell nonprofit stories in a different way. And understanding that I was falling back on a formula gave me a swift kick in the tail and sent me back to the editing drawing board. I sat down with the audio edit and stripped away anything that wasn’t emotionally compelling. I spent some time finding music that hit the right mix of urgency and still felt somewhat uplifting. I sifted through folders of existing images looking for the ones that struck the right note. And I found a way to tell the story that was outside of my fallback position. The story was better for it, and so was I.
Maybe the most important part of this story is that I figured out my own fall back position. It wasn’t until someone threw an insult my way that I even thought to question the way I was telling stories. Our first instincts as storytellers are not necessarily bad, but all of us can dig deeper. The next time you start to tell a story take a look at your fallback position, eliminate it as an option, and see how your story shifts.