Show, don’t tell; A storyteller’s best friend.

“Tom’s fingers were trembling. His eyes followed my glare to his hands. He jerked them behind his back. Much better. After three tries the question finally came out: ‘Would you… Like, you know. Maybe, some time, have a drink somewhere. Like, with me, I’d be there too.’”

“He was very nervous, that was obvious. Asking me out was really scary to him.“

Let me introduce you: show vs. tell.

 

The principle “show, don’t tell” is a storyteller’s best friend. Well, at least one of them. Anyone who’s ever spent any time studying creative writing will be familiar with this technique. For anyone who hasn’t, let me explain. Show, don’t tell is a technique used to take the reader or listener by the hand and let them feel and experience everything the story has to offer. As if they are there themselves. In the first example, you really look at Tom the way the main character does. I don’t need to tell you that he’s nervous, you can see that for yourself. The second version is just dry information. At the end of the snippet, you know just as much as you do at the end of number 1. Yet, at the end of 1, you feel much more.

 

I don’t think I have to convince you of the importance of emotion. Storytelling is first and foremost about making people feel something. If they don’t feel anything, they’re not going to care about anything. For your audience to start feeling, you, as a storyteller, need to get close to them or get them close to you. Through show, don’t tell, you can get them close to you in your story. Have them walk around in it themselves, have them explore and make it their own.

 

So, how do we do this show don’t tell thing? A neat little exercise to practice showing is eliminating adjectives. If you can’t say “he is nervous”, you have to find another way of making it clear. I’m not saying adjectives are bad, they’re not! This is, however, a nice way to practice.
Another thing to do is keep asking yourself the question: what does that look like. Be specific, give me details. Zoom in on one specific telltale sign of what you are trying to convey.

 

Now, let’s put it into practice! In the comments make your own show, don’t tell of this little snippet:

“She was sad to see him leave. Yet, she did know it was better this way.”

Go nuts, add all you want, just take me through your story. Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Help! All the creativity has left me!

Why did I choose a creative profession!? I’ve been staring at a blank document on my laptop for hours. Well, it’s intermittent staring. I’ve gotten up to make tea, to get cookies, to do laundry, to make more tea, to dance around in the living room, to eat lunch, to make tea, to hang the laundry, to stare at my screen from a different angle and to call my mom. But in the meantime, not a word. Not a single word of story has gotten into my brain, through my fingers onto the screen. Nada, zero, nothing. Why did I choose a creative profession?!

If you have a creative profession yourself or maybe even more so if you don’t, you’ll know the dull, lifeless, rag doll-like feeling of being uninspired. The creative block. It comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it comes up out of nowhere. You’re in the flow creating something beautiful and all of a sudden it stops. It’s almost like you’ve used it all up. That was it, you’ve now exhausted your last bit of creative ability.

Other times it’s like a dark cloud following you around. You have a vague memory of producing something at some point in the distant past but it was probably pretty shit anyway. Because you now know: you suck! Better go work at McDonald’s, hopefully, they don’t require a written application.

Let’s get a little insight into what creative block versus creative flow is. I love this talk by John Cleese. He talks about two different modes: the open mode and the closed mode. The closed mode is the one in which we cannot experience creativity. It’s active and somewhat anxious, it’s purposeful but there’s a lack of playfulness. The open mode, on the other hand, is signified by relaxation, humour and curiosity for the sake of curiosity.

The open mode is where our brain can wander freely to explore options and find solutions. However, we need to be in the closed mode in order to implement our ideas efficiently. Both modes are vital. It’s hard to be around people who are always in open mode just as much as people who are always in closed mode. For the openmoder, everything is always possible, including making me wait for 1,5 half before cancelling our appointment. For the closedmoder nothing is ever possible at all, certainly not storytelling in business.

Creativity is a fickle thing and we’ll never have full control over it, which is a big part of its beauty. We do, however, have figured out some tools to stimulate it. To get the juices flowing, so to say. For some reason, we are all created as individuals so not everything works for everyone. Let me discuss a few different techniques here, find out which ones work well for you. Please do let me know in the comments if you have some secret exercises you use to be able to create the magic you create.

  1. Just get the heck started

It’s idyllic to be the misunderstood, tortured soul when you never actually produce anything. Staring at a blank canvas/sheet of paper/Word doc/stage/fill in your own… Willing the brilliance to come to you and simply waiting for it to happen. NOT GONNA WORK! We’ll actually have to produce something to produce anything of value. Just do it. Allow it to be absolute garbage. Redo it. Grow, learn, evolve! When there’s no creativity, make something absolutely uninspired but just keep at it.

  1. Nature is pretty darn magical

I, personally, only really discovered the intense effects of nature at 26 years old. I am what they call a city gal. I understand cities, drop me in any city and I’ll manage. Plants, on the other hand, seem extremely unpredictable to me. Last April, however, I decided to broaden my horizon. I went on an 800 km hike. This took me 7 weeks and much of it was through nature. Fields, mountains, forests. I will never forget the surge of inspiration I got from touching a horse’s nose for the first time. Exhilarating! Later I heard that most people just venture out into nature for an hour or two. Get in touch with nature, touch a horse’s nose if, like me, you’ve never done that. Maybe it will help you find the inspiration to write a blog post about inspiration!

  1. Marvelling at others’ creativity

For me, this can honestly go both ways. Sometimes, when I’m admiring the product of someone else’s creative process, I feel like a complete and an utter failure. I will never be able to produce something like that, why even try!? At other times, art in any form can lift me up. Makes me want to create, do, become better. It doesn’t only inspire me, it also motivates me. Some of my personal favourites: Hamilton the musical (haven’t actually seen it but know the lyrics by heart), I’ve fallen in love with Botero’s art here in Colombia and books ranging from Harry Potter to 1984.

 

Reading back this article I see it’s dripping with arrogance and insecurity. Two things I, apparently, very much associate with my creative process. When it’s flowing, I feel on top of the world. I feel like nothing can stop me and I will create magic. When it isn’t going I feel miserable and worthless. This brings me to my last point: try to disconnect your creative process from your sense of self-worth. When you can do that, it can be OK to be blocked. You can just walk away from it all, do something else and come back to it later. I still have enough work to do in that respect, I can’t always do it. But just every now and then I can keep believing that I have good ideas and produce valuable work even though it’s not coming right now.

And if all this fails, we can always change professions.

How Improv Can Make You a Better Speaker and Happier Human

IMPRO Amsterdam Festival

Improvisation theater (improv) is the art of creating theater out of nothing. No script, no director, no rehearsals. Sometimes the improvisors don’t even know the people they are playing with. Still, when you bring experienced players together on a stage, magic can happen. The beauty of it is, improv is for everyone, it is one of the most inclusive communities I know. No wonder, because everyone who has ever done improv knows how enriching it can be to your professional and personal life.

It’s so much fun
First and foremost, if you ask me, improv is simply one of the most enjoyable things in this world. Extreme giggles are guaranteed. There’s just something about a group of 10 adults, bankers, managers, teachers, coaches in their daily lives, walking around a room and pretending to be chickens. Sometimes you’re laughing because everything is going right and great comedy is created, sometimes you’re laughing because the whole scene is getting messed up. One way or another, laugh you shall.

Become fearless
One of the most common fears we humans suffer from is stage fright. Having an audience of people staring at you, not knowing what they are thinking. Particularly, not knowing what they are thinking about you. For many people an absolute nightmare. The best advice I can give these people: go and start doing improv!
Every improv teacher will agree that their most important job during a workshop is maintaining a balance between safety and challenge. Because only in a safe environment we feel like we can experiment and overcome our fear of doing it all wrong all the time. After doing improv for 6 months you will see that you will have overcome a lot of the fear without having even noticed it.

Brain training
Thinking on your feet, creative thinking, finding solutions where there don’t seem to be any, listening and reacting quickly, remembering everything that has happened so far (including where exactly the invisible door is that you just created) all whilst keeping constant track of how your scene partner is doing. Train improv on a regular basis and you will be able to do all these things at the same time. If you can multitask like this on a stage with an audience watching you, why wouldn’t you be able to do it in your daily life as well? At parties you will remember everyone’s name, at work you will come up with the creative solutions, during your presentations you will be able to answer even the toughest of questions and at home you will read your partner’s mood more closely.

Say yes
There is not a more positive bunch than a group of improvisors. The number one rule of improv is called “yes, and…”. Yes, I accept your idea and I will add something that will make the story grow. In other words, improvisors are conditioned to say yes. To go along with other people’s ideas, to try out different things and to act more and talk less. In a culture like my own, the Dutch culture, where often times the answers is “no, but I’ll think about it”, positivity is such a valuable skill to have. Start doing improv and find out for yourself which unexpected and wonderful experiences “yes, and…” can bring you.

When I get to talking about improv, it’s hard for me to stop. When something has enriched your own life like this, you simply need to share it with everyone. All I can add is find your local improv group or beginners course and start experiencing the positivity, safety and challenge, creativity and laughing fits yourself.