Inciting Community

Just over one whole year ago, I sent an email to James with three little words in it: Adventures in Storytelling. (Actually, the email had a lot of words in it, but three very important ones were “Adventures”, “in”, and “Storytelling”.) In that moment I laid out an idea that was 10% plan, and asked him if he wanted to be a part of “…something better than if I do it alone.”

This very website was that idea (in its most infant, chrysalis of forms). The plan has changed significantly (and for the better) on all fronts. Except, perhaps, one…

“The dream is to build an online community where storytellers (particularly new creators) can post their stories.”

I pulled that line from my original email to James. So, were you able to catch it? That little piece of the original idea that has not left, changed, or become unrecognizable through evolution?

First page of Luke’s Adventures in Storytelling notebook.

If you read our About page, or saw our Pitch document, you’ll know that Adventures in Storytelling lives on top of three pillars, designed as a place to create, share, and reflect upon our stories, in the ever continuing effort to become better storytellers. This gets delightfully more complicated by weaving together a diverse group of media, styles, and techniques to, ultimately, see what we can create.

As James said, “One of the core tenets of Adventures in Storytelling is the idea that in order to become better creators, we must actually create.”This will never change. Even when we’re all rich and famous storytellers, beloved by the world with acclaims hurled like lightning bolts down at us from the heavens, I can guarantee that each and every single one of us will continue to tell stories—not for accolades, or money, or even to make sure they keep putting food on the table, but because we must. The stories are in us, and we need to get them out. And that is a very important part of what Adventures in Storytelling is about: doing.

But there’s still that one element I said hasn’t really changed, from the early moments of this being an unformed idea rattling around in my brain matter, until today, when you, dear reader, are here scanning this text that I have put together for you(/me/they/us). Have you spotted what it is yet?

Early humans gather around the campfire for safety, community, and stories.

It’s the same reason early people gathered together around the fire, to hold back the night. It’s the reason (I hope) you’re here, taking the time to read what we post in the Central Pillar and add your own comments. It’s why I’m writing a story with James; why I’m editor to a plethora of creators that work in media that span genre, method, skill; and why I really, really want Adventures in Storytelling to work. It’s the first thing I said to James when I finally pitched this idea:

“The dream is to build an online community…

A community of creators; of storytellers. Writers, painters, dancers, table-makers, etc.! Hanging out together, as it were, talking about story; about the act of storytelling. Sharing our ideas with one another and allowing fresh insights, differing opinions, contradictory views, a healthy dose of cheerleading, and a whole lot of passion for storytelling to expand our skill to create stories so much further than if we were to “…do it alone.”

I’ve already seen my idea flourish and grow into something better than the original shape of its parts. James is a wonderful writing partner (despite his abhorrence of due dates): he reflects an idea back at me, boosting the colour, the gain, the structure. He challenges my ideas (and reels me in when I start going off course). And sometimes, he jumps off the ship and comes soaring down the river with me. Charlotte’s Journey is more, is better, because we built it together.

I had a vision, the shape of what Adventures in Storytelling was going to look like; it would have been good. But after months of talking about it with James, teasing it apart, glueing it back together, sure, it lost some of its components—but it’s more, it’s better for the time we spent batting it back and forth. If left up to my own devices, this would still be “phase 1”—aka just me—and my community would still be a dream over the horizon! I needed a community to realize how much I need a community—right now!

Even superheros, mutant turtles, swamp things, BMOs, and storytelling apes need community.

That may sound like circular logic—but it’s not. From the very first pitch I put community up front and central. I reached out to James in the first place because I knew I wouldn’t get this off the ground on my own—a community encourages and incites by the very act of being there.

As I started to share the idea of Adventures in Storytelling with others, the ideas continued to come in: “Don’t let it turn into a poor person’s DeviantArt”, “Have you considered the academic implications you could weave into this project”, “Creative Commons Licensing is great, but how does posting your short-story on the Internet affect the chances of selling it to a publisher later?” “What if Charlotte has a love of language…”

Community, even before we were technically a community, has made Adventures in Storytelling better. It will be more than what I imagined it to be. (Heck, my original vision didn’t include the Right Pillar at all! But a few brainstorming sessions with James, and now our project has a goal.)

An idea can only be as good as you are, by the very limitations of your skull, if you go it alone. But if you stand with others, if you talk with them, if you allow their influence to reflect pieces of your work back at you, well, then, that’s when the alloy process begins. And any metallurgist or lover of axioms will tell you that alloys are stronger…

I’ve always been fascinated with 1920s Paris. So many creators in one place, and though they may not have been “working together”, they were unequivocally a community. They dreamed, they inspired, they challenged, and they cavorted. Dali, the Fitzgeralds, Beckett, Pound, and so many more! Brilliant in their own right, sure, but by living together, working side-by-side, drinking long into the night chatting about existential crises or where to place the comma, I am sure that their works became better, that the influences they played on one another carried forward throughout their lives even after they left France.

I’m not cocky or arrogant enough to claim my skills can (or ever will) rest amongst those greats, but as Gil comes to learn in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, even the greats dream of a place in time long before their own, when a community lived and worked and challenged one another, and in the process created something better. But there’s only so much time we can spend looking backwards.

I guess what I’m trying to say is Adventures in Storytelling is my effort to look forward. To try, through the tools of our digital age, to create an alloy of people, of creators, and transform them from a group of individuals that exist side by side into a community that influences, challenges, supports, and makes each piece of itself better.

And who knows, maybe one day, a hundred years from now, some young, aspiring creator will look back on us and dream about what it was like to be a part of our community; will long to stand beside the filmographers, writers, dancers, and more that shaped one another’s talent; will, I hope, be inspired to forge their own community. Another link in the chain stretching backwards and forwards throughout time, each link a piece of our communal storytelling prowess, each endeavouring to make the collective, human consciousness—that Storytelling Ape—better.