Making the Story up as we Go

Making the Story up as We Go


The “point of view in the American novel” was an assignment I relished during my course on American literature at the University of Bologna. I started the paper by describing a scene from Hitchcock’s Rear Window: A man in the semi-distance looking inside the apartment across and the yard below him. From the activities taking place in his view, the character develops a narrative piecing together clues made of body language and action. Third party observational narrative feels real to the moviegoer who becomes immersed in the sequence of events “as seen or described” by someone else. You watch the silent story playing out through the lead character’s lens, his dialogue within the apartment creating a story. The entire film is part of a larger story – Hitchcock’s recipe of fear tempered with humor and realism – and the American way of looking at the world, which serves as the underlying cultural narrative.

Narrative is a way of looking at the world. It has an origin, a current development, and is open-ended – relying on belief to frame things, situations, and events. Cultural narratives are perspectives on a common story. Story is what we tell each other. It’s made of people and situations – with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Stories make an impression. A range of stories illustrate, animate, and validate a message. Narrative influences thought, meaning, and decision-making. Narrative is the lens, story the experience.

Media shapes cultural narratives via strings of stories, technology via defaults. But you and I can shape narrative as well. Rather than accepting the status quo, we can turn around and create a new narrative, story by story. Story is a space we create in our minds in the attempt to give structure to the rhythms, emotions, and energy we feel, see or witness from when, where, and who we are. Italian writer, director, and performer Alessandro Baricco says, “a story is the field of energy produced in the soul of one of us by the unexpected vibration of a tile of the world. Its genesis can last an instant, or incubate for years.” That’s point of view and vantage point wrapped into the lesser examined questions of our experience.  

I created a collection from the articles I’ve written over the years. You can read early versions of the articles in this collection here at no cost. I started Conversation Agent in 2006 to figure out what I'm thinking and make sense of what I learn by writing in public. But if you're looking for something more substantial, in this collection I’ve eliminated typos, edited some titles to suit the content better, and edited each article to improve sentences through the lens of the overall narrative, but without changing the purpose of each story. I removed most images but the diagrams and illustrations I created, moving them to spots more suitable to the point I’m making in the article. I also re-ordered my writings to provide a sense of continuum.

I'm happy to share this collection with anyone who's thinking about the impact of narrative in culture. The articles are not meant to be lessons. They're more like séances, brief sessions to communicate with the guiding human spirit to make sense of the texture of our work and lives.


Excerpt edited from the Preface.