Jae’s Rules of Storytelling

On the importance of diverse peoples, research and food

Stories are the common threads that tie all of us here at Killer Moose together. Regardless of the medium or genre, a great story is a great story, though our opinions may differ on what constitutes great storytelling. We love stories so much that we’ve become storytellers ourselves. Each of us is guided by certain rules that embody what it is we love about telling stories, and more importantly, what draws us to great storytelling.

You’ve heard from Brad, Clarice, and Cole. They’re all great reads, so check them out if you haven’t had a chance.

Now, let’s kick this pig!

1.) Diversity isn’t binary. I’m sure as hell not your token, and I ain’t your stereotype either.

My coming out was hard. There weren’t positive LGBT+ characters out there for me to discover when I figured out I wasn’t straight. Thing was, I wasn’t 100% gay, which only stood to complicate matters. Quick! Name a heroic pansexual circa 1990! Having a difficult time? Yea, me too. It’d be another 15 years until Captain Jack Harkness dashed his way into my heart, thanks to Barrowman’s groundbreaking performance. His brazen sexuality, while a part of him, did not solely define his character. You know, like real people.

Stories have a diversity problem, and I don’t just mean their lack of inclusion or representation. Diversity, and I mean actual diversity, is so much more than a character being defined by what they are not: the not-white character, the not-straight character, or the not-male character. It’s lazy and poor storytelling, and most of the time it’s downright insulting. Every time a gay man is depicted as effeminate, or a lesbian as masculine, my fucking eyes bleed. Not every African-American comes from the street, and not every strong woman is rabidly anti-male. It’s bullshit stereotyping, it’s archaic, and it needs go to away.

And please stop with the whole, “well, it’s a fantasy world built on European myths and traditions,” as an excuse for your overly white setting. Europe isn’t some ragtag group of isolated, homogenous cultures. That’s historically inaccurate, not to mention boring. If you can write about knights and dragons, then don’t tell me you can’t write about a bisexual, woman of color. Who, you know, is a person who exists in actual reality. It’s not difficult to write about diverse characters, and it isn’t a matter of creativity. It only requires empathy, and taking the time to research.

Speaking of research…

 

2.) If you’re going to write about the thing, then learn about the thing.

I consume massive amounts of information. Always have, always will. Most of it will never be incorporated into my writing, but when it is, I’m ready. From encyclopedias to historical cookbooks, my reference library is a vast, sometimes frightening place. I’ve read more than my fair share of books on forensics, autopsies, and crime scene analysis, so when I write about my forensic alchemist discussing the differences between spontaneous combustion and immolation by dragon, I sound like I know what I’m talking about. Did I mention I write fantasy? Well, now you know.

Case in point, take any cop show’s depiction of technology and culture when it comes to the internet. Hackers use a barrage of flashy graphics to steal credit card numbers while laughing maniacally at how stupid law enforcement officers are. MMORPGs are a nightmarish polygon landscape where players are obsessed with PvP, TKO, and any other three letter abbreviation that sounds cool when a guy with glasses mentions it. These things aren’t difficult to get right. Just take an hour to do some research, or call your 14 year old nephew to explain it to you.

Being uninformed is lazy storytelling. If it’s important enough to mention, then it’s important enough to know some things about it. Authors have written extensively on any subject you could imagine. The amount of information available online is astounding. Yes, I too hate myself that I forgo the library to look things up online, but research has become that easy. Websites on every possible subject are out there, many of which are actually run by experts in the field. I have an entire section of my reference library devoted to the history of food, and not just because I find it fascinating. I set a lot of scenes around meals, so understanding how food was prepared and presented is important. And I use it as the foundation for all my world building.

Which brings us to…

 

3.) World building starts with one question: What do they eat?

I like food, and I don’t just mean I like eating. To me, it’s the most important building block of any setting, great or small. Food is a shared experience, ripe with rituals and ceremonies that add dimension and nuance to our culture. Ever been to a tea ceremony or been served Turkish coffee? Is getting together for a meal a part of your social group? Can you recall in vivid detail the best meal of your entire life? The very nature of food, and how we gather, produce, and consume it, is the foundation upon which all civilizations are built upon.

In storytelling, it builds entire worlds. Every character, whether you write about it or not, eats. What food they gather or have access to creates the surrounding landscape. How they prepare and consume it sets their level of advancement and social dynamics. Do they eat seafood? Are they near a body of water, or is it packed in salt and shipped? If they are by water, do they fish for their own sustenance or have they developed it into an industry? What about the byproducts? As you develop what your characters eat, the world you are creating becomes more tangible.

And for some, it is the lack of food that shapes their reality.

I spend a lot of time working inside my imaginary worlds writing funny stories. I like making people laugh, but a lot of my humor comes out of anger and frustration. To me, part of a storyteller’s job is to talk about things that are often overlooked and to raise some level of awareness about it. Everyone should have easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Food deserts should not exit. No one should ever go to bed hungry. In fiction, food has become mundane, a detail or thing that gets mentioned once or twice before the story moves along. Sure, sometimes you get a very special episode where Protag Mcguffin learns a stark truth and valuable lesson in the course of 45 minutes, but it’s forgotten a week later. I write about food because of it’s importance to society and culture. Yes, food does help in creating vivid, imaginable worlds, but it’s also subtle reminder of how important it is.

We tell stories to entertain, but if you happen to distill a little information from it, then that makes it all the better.

 

That’s it for me this week. This went a whole lot deeper than I initially intended, and now I could certainly use a drink. Next week, Hanna will be wrapping things up with her rules for storytelling. Are you excited? I know I’m excited.