My name is Michael or Mike for short. I found my love for stories when I started college in 2011. I had just graduated from high school and to everyone’s surprise decided to pursue a degree in animation. Five days a week I would spend an hour each morning, and an hour each evening driving between my home and my university to take classes. The drive was miserable, and slow. In the early fall and late spring the heat was suffocating. My car didn’t have air conditioning, and I would always stick to the seats. When I started college I had finally broken in my first car, one that had been sitting in my parents driveway for a whole year before my dad would even let me drive it on my own, or get my permit. It was a faded blue 1971 Ford Galaxie. This old steel behemoth was more than twice my age, no airbags, and it decided if and when it wanted to start. My dad was right to be cautious, in retrospect.
I didn’t realize it at first, but this car helped me truly understand how much I enjoyed stories. Every day on my drive to school, without fail, someone would stop me for a few minutes and chat about the car. It could be at a red light, a gas station, or even the school’s parking lot. I’d get the same standard questions; What engine? How many miles? How long have you had it? I’d politely answer and smile because at the end of this questioning always came something I grew very fond of. A Story.
Each person would look back at me and tell me a story of an old car they had back when everyone had classic cars. For them it would be their golden years. It might be a story of how they took it out racing with their friends, or how the rumble of the engine felt when they hit the gas, or how it was always a pain in the neck to tune up. They always had a small detail that was important to them, the turn of a wrench, the smell of gas in the air, or even the size of the back seat. In those moments, you could see the joy, the emotion in their eyes on full display as they shared this with you. That moment between myself and them....it was important to these strangers, and it eventually became very important to me.
Most of my memorable life has been filled with stories, I just didn’t realize that’s what you called them yet. I would spend nights awake with my nose in a book, hours watching television with my friends, or sitting on the front porch listening to my uncle recall all of the lighthearted pranks he would play on my relatives. I’ve heard tales of laughter, heartache, darkness, cruelty, love and despair. I've read stories of people rising up against would-be god-kings, children fighting evil wizards, slaves becoming saviors, and stories as simple as a teenage boy stealing balls and scamming folks at a golf course. As varied and different as they may be, one thing connects them all. They bring people together, and bring joy into someone’s life. What is a story? Most people, when asked this question, would imagine a great book they’ve read, or an amazing film they’ve seen. Some would even recall a funny story from their own life, or something told to them by a close friend or relative. Someone can spend a few minutes recounting a story of their old favorite car, a beautiful day at the beach, or their excitement for a concert, and something wonderful happens. You can see the hope and the light in their eyes while they share this time with you. For that brief moment it's tangible, yet you can never hold it in your hands. In the grand scheme this moment is so small...yet for an individual it can be such a monumental part of their life. This speck of happiness, or despair, from their own lives is reflected in their eyes back at you. In a story, you can find pieces of yourself, or pieces of others all mingled together in a beautiful tapestry. These moments are what I now strive to create.
This brings me to my current storytelling fascination: role playing games. These are games that are built upon the idea that you take some time, sit down with friends and pretend to be someone you’re not. You can be a knight, a 1920s film noir crime fighter, or even a kid in a small town in Hawkins Indiana. They can be scripted, or they can be made up on the spot. The only important part is that you do it together, and you’re all having fun along the way.
In our show, we play a role playing game you may or not be familiar with: Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition. We play together in a world crafted by myself, and the players. In this game we also pretend to be someone we’re not, but when we want to accomplish something, like tackle a robber, talk our way out of a fight, or even heroically leap to certain doom across a chasm, we roll some dice to see if it happens. Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we fail. In the end though it’s always a good time, a great laugh, and another moment shared between us. A moment we will remember forever, and a moment we want to share with the listeners of our show.
This blog, for me, is going to be a roadmap about storytelling and how we craft our own stories for this show, page by page, second by second. Sprinkled along the way I’ll share stories from my life, and how they influence my methods of storytelling, but they will all be set within creating a convincing, and engaging experience for a role-playing game. Welcome to the Orator, and stay tuned next week for: Expectations and How to Set Them.