Sunday, May 4, 2014

Fill In The Blanks

First off, an apology to all four of you that were expecting posts the last couple of weeks. I decided  I would take some mental health time away from blogging. Also, I had exactly zero ideas for posts and was becoming quite frustrated so I decided to do other things.

Anyhow, a few things happened while I was away from the blogosphere but today we're going to focus on storytelling. I was in a bit of a funk and having a hard time getting words to flow. Call it writer's block, call it whatever you want. I was stuck and having a hard time getting out. Before you knew it though the day was saved... by none other than Rob Ford.

I know it sounds a little suspect, but it's true! Before you think I'm just another person jumping on the let's make fun of Rob Ford bandwagon (I'm not) I have a question:

What do Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, former President Bill Clinton, and former football player O.J. Simpson have in common?

Answer: in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary they all chose to deny, deny, deny... and then admit.

Well, two of the three eventually copped to some reasonable facsimile of the truth. One of those two could very well be in the White House again in a couple years (albeit as the spouse of the President this time) and one could still be Mayor of Toronto in the fall (though still the butt of late night television jokes). The one who is still denying everything? Well he was sued for every penny he had an is now in jail for an "unrelated" conviction.

So what is it about denying something until you're blue in the face before coming clean at the last second that actually works?

Answer: imagination.

In storytelling you have to lead people down the path but you can't spoon feed them every detail. If you did there wouldn't be much of a story, and if there's one thing we humans love it's a good story. We also have wonderful imaginations, especially when we're given just the right amount of information to work with. If you can leave out certain bits and carefully highlight other ones you end up leaving enough room for the reader to fill in the blanks with their own fabulous ideas.

Good stories live inside negative space. 

By constantly denying, what those people are doing is allowing everyone's individual storytelling machines to work overdrive. At the end of it all they can just stand back and put their arms up and say, "Well look at that, everyone's got a theory. My 'theory' is I'm innocent. [smiles and waves] No further comment."

After a while, because people have dreamed up such amazing stories to fill the space in between, when the truth does come out (and it always does eventually) it's really quite an anti-climactic event. We forget all about how incredulous we were back when it all began. The redemption story starts to take hold. Everyone deserves another chance. Blah blah blah. Humans are also suckers for the happy ending. Film has been taking advantage of this for over a century (the finest example I can think of is the film adaptation of Bernard Malamud's "The Natural". Watch Robert Redford in the movie and then read the book).

The problem is we live in the real world and not in the pages of a best selling novel or some Hollywood tale. I want real people, especially leaders and role models, to be able to produce a list of end notes and reference checks as long as their arm like you'd have at the end of a research paper. Just as it is with that list, I'm never going to follow up on everything on it, but I'll feel much but I feel much better knowing it's there. This way we can spend more of our precious creative time coming up with stories that actually matter.

~ Andrew

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