Saturday, February 2, 2013

Corporate Storytelling

Once upon a time, it was Groundhog Day, and I saw my shadow as I left for a Saturday morning seminar at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ. "An early spring awaits us," I thought -- then convinced myself for certain because I remembered that my friend Brian Wood had recently had his snowblower repaired. This is a sure sign that there will be no more snow this winter.

The FDU seminar was about "Corporate Storytelling" for internal employee communicators. It included references to "Save the Cat," a popular how-to-write-a-screenplay manual from an author who penned such screen classics as "Stop or My Mom Will Shoot," and to Christopher Booker's "The Seven Basic Plots," which analyzes and categorizes the arcs of every possible story that can be told.

It's as if fiction writing has become a technical science, with tried-and-true methods of manipulate readers or viewers. These methods can be employed much as a professional carpenter might use a schematic to build a bathroom vanity.

This is precisely the kind of writing I am not interested in. I write every day -- driven by something deep inside me -- and I don't know why or what I'll craft of the strands, but I know I need to do it. It's therapy, or a true artistic impulse, or both. But it's not craft.

I'm like my grandmother in this way. Nonna hated fiction. "I'm not interested in stories," she'd say. She read only to learn about something, or to inspire herself, or to deepen her faith -- but never for the sake of entertainment or diversion.

I don't mind being entertained. I love movies, for example -- but I'm often comforted by the fact that many of my favorite movie moments... when Indiana Jones shoots his sword-wielding opponent, when the Godfather calmly strokes a cat, the line "leave the gun, take the cannoli" or "here's looking at you, kid"... were all ad-libbed and of-the-moment and... well, artistic.

The best moments of art, as in life, are not carefully planned and scripted.