Monday, May 6, 2013

E is for... ethics and endings

Our story thus far...
A is for About
B is for Beginnings
C is for Character
D is for Death

Today is a twofer.  E is such a rich letter, the most common in the English language, that I wanted to give you a little extra.

First, let me point you to several posts I've already written about storytelling and ethics. As storytellers, we have a strong ethical obligation to our audiences, our material and ourselves. Because storytelling is such a powerful and immediate art form we must be clear about the boundaries between truth and fiction, understand the ownership of the works we tell, charge what we are worth and so on. It's easy to slip in snake oil with storytelling, so we need to be mindful.

Since I've already written about this elsewhere I'll send you to the posts.

Boundaries between truth and fiction, the importance of disclosure.
Ethical obligations of the teller to the audience (right teller, homework), the story (professionalism) and other tellers and organizers (pricing, marketing, easy to work with).
Ethical obligations of the organizer (care and feeding of tellers, promotion, advocacy).

Please take a look at these posts. These are important issues and not to be passed over lightly.

Okay, onto Endings.

Endings matter. A poorly executed ending can ruin an otherwise beautifully told story. The ending doesn't have to be a clear resolution nor is every ending is happily ever after, but it does need to leave the audience with a sense of completion or at least satisfaction and curiosity.

Some stories don't have well defined endings, because not everything in life comes to an easy resolution, but you can acknowledge that. Because storytelling can easily violate the fourth wall, the teller can directly address the audience.

  • Jack and the princess stood there, looking at each other. I don't really know how this story ends, but I do know this. The giant was dead. The princess was free. Jack discovered himself to be a rich man, and that, of course, is another story.
  • We are still growing and changing. I don't know what the future will bring, but I do know we'll face it together.
  • And I am still here.
The crucial elements for effective endings are:
  • You like the ending. It gives you a sense of completion and you feel as though the story is at a natural resting place.
  • The audience is left with a sense of completion. They may have questions, they may be uncomfortable, but they leave the story experience knowing this was a stopping point.
  • The audience is not left worried about you. If you're telling a personal story they need to be able to walk out of the experience believing you will be okay. It's cruel to do otherwise. It also turns the storytelling experience from art and performance to therapy.
  • The ending is somehow related to the rest of the piece. An ending that is completely disconnected may be interesting art, but it doesn't serve the audience's narrative expectation.

You may want to give your listeners a cue that you're done. Bow. Pause and smile. Say thank you. This is especially useful when you aren't using a formulaic ending like "happily ever after."

A good ending, one with emotional and narrative punch, can elevate an otherwise adequate story. Your audience may remember your ending long after the other memories begin to fade; don't neglect it. Give it the time and attention it deserves, both you and your audiences will be happier and more satisfied for it.

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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