Skip to 0 minutes and 9 secondsSome people argue that there are 22 possible plot patterns, while others say there are 36. Although there are various kinds of stories, there appear to be two main traditions in storytelling. The first tradition is the story about you, your neighbors, people; these are stories that resemble the real world. The second tradition is entirely different, stories that are more surreal in nature, with events that would not or cannot take place in reality. There might be some stories of another nature, but in general, most stories fall into one of these two categories. This can be seen in many art forms, and it is easy to get our head around this by exploring films.
Skip to 1 minute and 5 secondsA good example of a story that follows the first tradition is the documentary. The people in the story are indeed living somewhere on this planet. This really happened in that part of the world. It is not unusual that we show interest in such real stories. The other type of story is dreamlike. I once experienced something similar to this in my dream, or this would never happen in real life, so that piques my interest. This is an important point. These two traditions started with the advent of filmmaking a hundred years ago. Louis Lumiere’s Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, shot in Ciotat in south France, can be considered the very first movie in history.
Skip to 1 minute and 55 secondsThis film portrayed a scene of a train arriving at a station platform. From our modern perspective, this footage looks extremely simple. It is merely of a train pulling in a station. This was followed by another real-life clip, Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory. These were the early films of Louis Lumiere. Now, these may seem like very elementary stories to you, but to French audiences who had never been to a train station or a factory, they were extremely interesting, and in a way, also a shocking artistic experience. This tradition still has an impact on us. We remain interested in stories that feature places we can’t visit, or allow us a peek into the lives of people from different social strata.
Skip to 2 minutes and 47 secondsIf you think about it, many a time in the cinema, you see the phrase on the screen that goes, “The following story is based on actual events.” Our desire for stories is very clear. The story of a person with a story like mine. Experiencing vicarious satisfaction from a story about a place I’ve never been or customs I lack knowledge of. The transfer of reality to the screen has continued for the last hundred years through the power of documentaries. Here is a scene from Flaherty’s 1920 documentary film Nanook of the North. The Arctic, an area we learn about through geography or history lessons, and an area difficult to visit in person.
Skip to 4 minutes and 1 secondThis is a film captured on a simple device that features a visit to the arctic regions, recording how people there live, their landscape, their houses, and their work. This film became one of the top box-office sensations at that time, and was a huge hit in the U.S., to the extent that the young boy featured in the film was later invited to New York, where he was more or less put on display at an Eskimo exhibition. The other great storytelling tradition is the opposite of this, and takes place in a world unrelated to ours, a world of fantasy. A dreamlike story. What are my dreams like? Unlike my real-life identity, I could be a billionaire in my dreams.
Skip to 4 minutes and 59 secondsUnlike in reality, I may be flying in my dreams. Impossible in my real life, but I could be travel the universe in my dreams. This is the stuff movies and stories are made of. Melies, a contemporary of Louis Lumiere, is said to have created this second storytelling approach a hundred years ago. Here is a scene from his 1920 film Voyage to the Moon. Here, you can see that despite being made a hundred years ago, the film is filled with remarkable imagination. Parliament gathers to select a scientist to travel to the moon. What follows are the events that occur after the scientist lands on the moon. Back then, we knew about the moon but had yet to land there.
Skip to 5 minutes and 57 secondsWe could only imagine what it was like. Literary imagination and books made up our reality during those days, and for the first time, this film was able to realize such imagination into a visual spectacle. This tradition of storytelling is valid even today. Our interest in fantasy fiction or things that cannot occur, things that are unlikely to occur, has persisted. Science fiction movies, dreamlike tales, works in the fantasy genre, these have continued to be spun out in great numbers. Most of our private world is based on fantasy. Fictional movies, in particular, blockbuster Hollywood movies, are often based on fantasy. What makes this style of storytelling attractive is precisely its presentation of rare images and uncommon experiences.
Skip to 7 minutes and 1 secondYou might recall the movie Avatar, a great success at the box offices. It was a journey through the universe. We might have a place, a star like that somewhere in our universe. This star will have special creatures inhabiting it. This place will be of special meaning to me, because it is of my dreams. Imagination can be conceptualized as the gaps in reality against the backdrop of fantasy. As such, the two traditions of storytelling are still relevant and in existence when we discuss this topic today. The reality of the real world and the fantasy of the illusion. Both are attractive in different ways, so which one should we base our story on? We have to choose one.
Skip to 8 minutes and 4 secondsFilms made from real stories feel thorough and realistic, as is the case with films related to socialism. As such, we have a way of creating emotions with our stories. Another approach is to use our dreamlike fantasy world as a base to develop a scenario that we wouldn’t experience in reality, or an alternate world experience for us to vicariously enjoy. These two contribute to different movies and different content. In the next session, we will start exploring the common story rules under both approaches.
The two traditions of storytelling
Although there are various kinds of stories, there appear to be two main traditions in storytelling. The first tradition is the story about you, your neighbors, people; these are stories that resemble the real world. The second tradition is entirely different, stories that are more surreal in nature, with events that would not or cannot take place in reality.
Can you think of two stories from your childhood which fit into these two models? Please share your experiences.
© #Fim credits: 01:52: Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (Société Lumière, 1896); 03:41: Nanook of the North (Pathé Exchange, 1922); 05:26: A Trip to the Moon (Star Film Company, 1902)