My Outlook

Telling a tale in time

         I love storytelling techniques that use unconventional methods to weave a tale, like revealing content backwards or unfolding a story from different time periods concurrently.

Fans awaiting season four of NBC's 'This Is Us' watch multiple actors tell the story of a family over different time periods simultaneously. It gives a sense of how experiences and interactions in the past shape the characters later in life.

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         Another that can be highly effective is 'in media res' which in Latin means "into the middle of things." It describes a narrative that launches, not at the beginning of a story, but somewhere in the middle, at a pivotal point in the action. Some find it annoying but to me it is such an interesting way for a story to unfold. I am actually far more intrigued by a book, movie or show that starts at the middle or the end and then subsequently reveals how the action built to that point.

         One of the biggest franchises in movie history started its storyline in the middle. Director George Lucas had an extensive narrative in mind when he first pitched a new concept, but since he honestly didn't hold out much hope there'd be an appetite for his space odyssey storyline, he started with the height of the action. Following the resounding success of Star Wars he was able to expand the series and tell it in non-chronologically. So the feature films started with episodes 4, 5 and 6, followed by 1, 2 and 3. Clearly it was a good decision given the expanse of the franchise. He took audiences into the height of the action and then later filled in the blanks and provided the backstory. He got fans invested in the characters and the battle before telling us how they got there.

         If we were to tell our stories backwards I wonder how the details might change since it is often in our retrospection that much is learned, putting into perspective the people and events that are part of our experience. Our lives move chronologically to be sure, but telling our story is not just linear; it is far more circular than that. Events as they happen may fall on a particular timeline, but in terms of how we share them with others it often takes a far more circuitous route, particularly as new people enter our lives or we become more comfortable with those who have known us for a while.

         Our backstory is important, not to dwell in, but to learn from, and we might be a bit better off if we were willing to take the time and listen to others as they fill in some details. Regrettably, impatience all too often causes us to miss out. We rush relationships without taking the time to fill in some of the blanks, not because we want anyone to be defined by their past, but because that backstory, for better or for worse, helps to provide context for what we do today and what might transpire tomorrow.      

         Every individual has a backstory. We may know some of it, much more we will not. As friendships and relationships deepen we hopefully feel welcomed to the idea of adding snippets, filling in more of the blanks and becoming more real with each other as we allow people to find out more about who we are.

         We may come into someone's life in media res and in the midst of the action, whether it be dramatic, comedic or tragic; or at a time when the backstory is a bit more prominent. The great thing about the way the storytelling takes place with one another is that we have the opportunity to get to know people, share in their lives, and help shape how the episodes are going to unfold. That's my outlook.

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