Prompt- Who’s the boss, you or the story?
The story. I always say the story tells itself. Stories come from the same place as music and all other art. All I need to do is get out of the way and listen.
This is not an original concept. Michelangelo said that his job was to get the statue out of the block of marble. Beethoven, Mozart — they heard it on the way to the staff paper. Paul McCartney openly admits that he doesn’t work at writing songs because he learned long ago that when he tried, nothing happened. I believe that. Here’s an observation to put that in perspective. Pop songs are an art form because good ones are better novels than most of us write. How many people have over 200 solid stories in a songbook? That are no more than 3.5 minutes long? Yes, little gems hacked from the giant blocks of often pointless words many of us deem necessary.
Here’s the rub.
Most of us aren’t Michelangelo or Beethoven, but even they had to work at it. The issue, as described by many artists, comes at the — everybody listen up — transcription stage, which is generally rough because we’re in the loop. Some of us forget that once the story is out doesn’t mean it’s done. Even if the story is the boss, we need to reserve the right to say to the piece, like Mike probably did, “Hey, Pieta. Nice to see you out of that block of marble. Let’s shine you up.”
The story talks to us. Shows itself to us. Our job is to let the story do its job. We need to stay as invisible as possible and put our “author” to bed and our skills to work in order to do them justice.
Here’s a bit from Elmore Leonard where a character of his explains how the story is the boss, There’s a great video where EL explains the cleaning up.
“What he does, he makes us do all the work, the people in the books. Puts us in scenes and says go ahead and do something. No, first he thinks up names. Takes forever to think up names like Bob and Jack. Jackie for a woman, a female lead. Or Frank. Years ago anyone named Frank in one of his books was a bad guy. So then he used Frank as the name of a good guy one time and this Frank wouldn’t talk, refused to come out and become the kind of person Elmore wanted. So he changed his name to Jack after thinking of names for another few weeks, and it felt so good he couldn’t shut the guy up, I mean this Jack, not Elmore. So he names us and he says okay start talking. So that’s what we do. Sometimes if a character has trouble expressing himself he’s demoted. He’s given less to do in the book, or he might get shot. What can also happen if a minor or even a no-name character shows he can talk, he can shove his way into the story and get a more important part. So Elmore names us, gets us talking to each other, bumping heads or getting along okay and then I don’t know what happens to him, I think he takes off, leaves it up to us. There was a piece written about him one time in The Village Voice called ‘The Author Vanishes’ and it’s true.”Elmore Leonard