THE SCENE: Retelling a story
Last weekend while watching the movie “Walk the Line,” I found myself thinking about how stories are retold versus how they actually unfold. “Walk the Line” focuses on the course of events in Johnny Cash’s life story. Being familiar with the background story, I already knew how the movie would end, but it soon became very evident that the sequence of events were inevitably leading to Johnny marrying June. Even though I already knew this is what would eventually happen, I began to wonder about the gaps that viewers weren’t seeing. I almost felt cheated because of the extent to which the events were shaped around the eventual relationship. I found myself wondering what the situation was actually like.
When watching a movie, we are confined to the narrow focus created by a carefully selected lens. I am not arguing that there is something wrong with this method of storytelling. In fact, I would argue that it is incredibly effective. It is, however, beneficial for everyone to be aware of the tactics behind a retold story.
Chances are, you are not an aspiring movie director, author or playwright, but you are a storyteller. Each of us likely tells some sort of story everyday, and when retelling a story, it is helpful to ask ourselves certain questions. For instance, where is our story going? What gaps should be left out? Who is your audience? When stories are retold, they are directed toward a certain audience while progressing towards a conclusion. This is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of a retold story. A story that is being told has a foreseen ending that every event is shaped around, whereas when an event is actually occurring for the first time, the conclusion is unknown. While it may be difficult to recreate the intensity of the events that led to its conclusion, a storyteller holds the key to tapering the focus of the story to the ultimate goal.
Have you ever told what seemed to be a really interesting story, just to suddenly hit a roadblock right before reaching the conclusion? The simple part of storytelling is the beginning, be it some sort of attention-grabbing comment or simply the traditional, “Once upon a time…” After you have the attention of the listener, the events of the story will typically flow along smoothly for a while, at least until you round the final turn on the way to the finish line. It is always unsettling to realize that you are approaching an unsatisfying ending.
In order to avoid this occurrence, the story needs to taper directly toward the desired conclusion, which is accomplished much easier through the medium of film versus verbal storytelling. After reaching the end of “Walk the Line,” as the final credits were rolling, I still felt somewhat cheated because I knew undoubtedly how the story would end. However, I was able to appreciate the angle of the story’s plot and be satisfied by the happy ending.