The Email That Started It All

A literary knight dies, and an idea rattles around on my walk home; a sudden need, and an email to send.

The day was March 12, 2015. I was walking home from work, contemplating the inevitable yet no less heartbreaking news: Sir Terry Pratchett had passed away. Sir Terry represented 50% of my personal writing heroes, so you must understand I was staggered by the gaping hole he left behind in literature and my soul. How could we, as a species, hope to fill this void? How does one person come to be as skilled, intelligent, delightful, and insightful as he was through each of his works?

There wasn’t then, nor is there now, much I can do to match Sir Terry’s personality and perspectives on life (nor will I ever try)—but what about skill? Skill is just the natural development of talent and ability, practiced over and over and over again. I’ll never be the writer Terry Pratchett was, but I can definitely be the best version of a writer I can be. All it takes is time and practice. And, perhaps…

As my feet hit the pavement, an idea that had been kicking around my head for many months rose to the service, and I kept hearing three words: Adventures in Storytelling. I thought of James and the mysterious plan I had alluded to during my Christmas visit three months before…

And suddenly the time became now. I had been, ridiculously, waiting for the “right moment” to share it with him, perhaps waiting for some portent sign to fall out of the sky and say, “It’s time, Luke.” But these things don’t happen. You see signs when you’re ready to see them; the time to act is when you act.

I went home, had a quick meal, then spent several hours writing the following email to James, pitching my idea to him (unnecessary spoiler alert: he agreed).

I share this email with you now because it’s an important moment in the history of Adventures in Storytelling, but more so because it’s the first stage of what AiS would eventually come to be. That email was the start to this story that you’re participating in right now. An important point of AiS is to understand stories and how we tell them, but also how they grow. If you compare my original email to our current About Us page and the Pitch we sent to the Community, you start to see how this story has evolved.

The Email

Italics: The Email as originally sent on March 12, 2015.
Bold: contextual notes added in March 2016.

Good evening James,

So, Sir Terry Pratchett passed away today, and as I said to some people at work “We’re going to need a 1000 new writers, at least, to fill the void he’s leaving.” I know you liked his books (and absolutely loved Nation), but for myself, he was one of my two writer heroes. A lot of the way he wrote is how I want to write. Needless to say, I’m reeling a little bit today.

Which I’d like to turn into a good thing. Which is why I have three words for you:

Adventures In Storytelling.

(Remember at Christmas, as Candice and I were heading out the door, saying our goodbyes? I told you I had an idea, and I’d be in touch about it? Well, this is that moment. I’m reaching out to you with this idea now because I can’t be idle anymore.)

The dream is to build an online community where storytellers (particularly new creators) can post their stories. I’m picturing a blog where we get people—writers, musicians, videographers, graphic novelists, etc.—to post content that explores how humans tell stories. Through words, visuals, sound; taste, touch, any sense we can get.

What’s important to me about this line is that, no matter how far we’ve come from the original idea, we’re remaining true to the heart of what I was getting at with my initial dream for Adventures in Storytelling: community & storytelling.

I call it “Adventures In Storytelling” because I want the overall theme and approach—at first—to focus on adventure stories. We both love Adventure Time, and I don’t know about you, but a huge part of that for me is the adventuring (through quests, through places, through emotions, friendships, the self, etc.)! By opening with a particular theme or motif, it gives us and our contributors a place to start from (and a schtick to hook a potential audience).

Much like the human appendix, this idea evolved out as we talked and plotted, though bits and pieces hang around. Our story, Charlotte’s Journey, remains an adventure story originally crafted around the Monomyth, but we didn’t want anyone else to feel constrained by this idea. That, and we realized that at its core, Adventures in Storytelling is the adventure.

On a higher meta level, it is also about our adventure into storytelling. How do we tell stories; how do other people? How do different mediums affect storytelling? What happens when you cross mediums? How do other cultures, other times, tell stories? What works and what doesn’t? Can we find the holy grail at the end of the quest (is there one)? What’s the journey like along the way? And this is the theme that will continue long after we have left “telling” adventure stories behind, and are focusing on “the adventure of” storytelling itself.

What? ADVENTURE INTO STORYTELLING is evolving!
ADVENTURE INTO STORYTELLING evolved into THE RIGHT PILLAR! 

Right now I see three phases:

Phase 1 – you and me:

The core (/ beginning) of this project is an adventure story. I want to root it in the Hero’s Journey ala Joseph Campbell, and using his monomyth structure, build a story. Much like a poet that chooses to avoid free-verse for a year and write only in classic forms (sonnet, haiku, etc.), by limiting ourselves to a particular structure, we are testing our abilities as writers to create something interesting while adhering to a set of rules. (And, at the same time, teaching ourselves the basics.)

The story will be ours; you and me, we’ll write the prose and plot the entire story.

But to keep it interesting, I want to bring in a multimedia approach, and an opportunity for us to work with other storytellers that don’t work in prose. (For example, it’s prose prose prose to get us to a fight scene, but the fight itself is done in comic form. Or, our protagonist meets a troubadour that sings a prophecy about them? It’s an mp3 file that plays the actual song. We find every way we can to incorporate different mediums of storytelling, and make it as fluid as possible.)

This was the idea that launched Adventures in Storytelling. Before I came up with the idea for a website, before I thought of James, before anything Adventure-related you see here before you, I was dreaming of a giant multimedia project, one that weaved in and out of different mediums within a single space that was that story’s home. At our first Writing Summit, our discussion (almost inevitably) changed how this will work for Charlotte’s Journey, forcing the idea to take a backseat during our project. But that’s okay; it’s what the story needs. And the idea is not gone, merely postponed. It’s my hope that Adventures in Storytelling will bring together a community—i.e. you—to one day create this Multi-Media piece. And it will be glorious.

I’d want to break the whole story, and have a large chunk of it finished before we started posting it online, but we’d roll it out in sections, over time. (Obviously allowing for any evolution as we continue creating it.)

Another important piece of the blog would be, well, a blog itself. This blog would be us reflecting on storytelling. We could talk about the process of forming the blog, about writing our story, about convincing others to participate. But also our reflections on books about writing that we read, or about stories that influence us, and why. (I would definitely want us to do a “behind-the-scenes” style of posts, where we talk about the process of collaborating with each other.) I envision it as the more traditional reflective exploration of storytelling; but, who knows where the blog component will end up.

I guess this idea didn’t really evolve, so much as come to be defined by the form of the larger project. This is, without a doubt, the Central Pillar (with a few dashes of the Left Pillar, too). It’s interesting to read this today after all the conversations I’ve had about the Central Pillar and its role. Like I’m seeing a childhood picture of myself in overalls with finger paints, knowing I’ll grow up one day to wear a tie and manage a website.

Phase 2 – friends, acquaintances, colleagues:

This phase would start while we’re writing our piece, but is all about our fellow storytellers. We reach out to everyone we know that writes, draws, etc., sharing our idea and asking them to create “an adventure” in their medium, that will then be posted to the blog. The criteria: it be an “adventure”, and it be told through a particular medium (video, music, etc.). At this phase, likely avoiding cross-medium pieces (that’s for….)

Phase 3 – evolve and collaborate

A lot like 2, except hopefully people will want to find ways to collaborate across mediums (music and film; graphic novel and ambiance? I dunno. See where we go). This is also the phase where we relax the “adventure story” theme, and focus on the “adventures of” storytelling lens.

I can’t tell you how happy and excited I am that we skipped ahead to Phase 3 and brought y’all in to our sandbox to play. It’s been an absolute pleasure to create with James, watching Charlotte, Raul, and Count Vilnius grow, but I’m just as stoked to watch your characters grow and change, face conflict and persevere through it. All the while doing the thing I love more than anything in this world—talking & creating story with people just as passionate as me.

Phase 4 – Infinity, and beyond…?

Wherever this process takes us! Maybe we’re successful, and gain a following and interested contributors and continue to evolve over time. Maybe we don’t. Maybe all this website becomes is a digital portfolio for a few invested creators—aka, our friends, etc. And I’m fine with that.

This isn’t about success; this is about doing.

The best way I can share my thoughts about this line is to direct you to James’ article, Reclaiming the Title of Storyteller. He captures so eloquently (as he often does) exactly what I’m struggling to put into words.*

(*NOTE: in the G-doc version of James’ article, he left me a beautiful note that nearly made me cry. One day, if I can convince him—and find a suitable lens to make it worthwhile to the community—I hope to share it with you. Perhaps about how a few words from a friend can remind you why you are who you are, and how a piece of yourself is so important to understanding and being yourself…)

(Mind you, I won’t run away or not hope for success… ;-}).

So that’s the idea. And I’m going to tackle it until I can’t tackle it anymore. I’d like you to be there with me, but if you feel that this is not the project for you, that’s fine. (Though it won’t stop me from reaching out to you for prose pieces!)

What I really want around this is collaboration.

There it is again: community at the heart of Adventures in Storytelling, and never evolving out.

This isn’t just a website, it’s a community. I figure it’ll be, at least to start, a lot about storytellers we know in Toronto, and nearby, but who knows what it might be one day (or not; again, this is about doing).

I imagine you and I will act in an editorial capacity. We’d have to, especially since the blog has a vision, a direction, a style, and theme. I do this kind of thing at work now, and I really enjoy it (and am becoming better and better at it). And I always respected your approach and editing style, not to mention your story ideas, which is why I want you there beside me.

There we go; I’ve put it out there. Think it over, and let’s talk on Saturday. Like I said, if this isn’t something you’re into, or don’t want to take on, I’m cool with that. I’m going to do it anyway. But I think together we can create something better than if I do it alone.

What to say about that last line? I feel like I could go on and on, perhaps for 1,304 words… But there’s one thing I didn’t say in so many words in that article, that I’ll take the chance to say now: I was right ;-}

So, let’s talk on Saturday, around 12pm? Either Skype, or through some messenger system (I know how we both dislike phones ;-}).

Thanks James!

Best,
Luke

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