If you are a storyteller—and if, like me, you’re interested in screenwriting—there is a free class you may find valuable.
John Paul the Great Catholic University focuses on degrees related to the creative arts. They are currently offering a five session “crash course” discussing the key elements of storytelling. And the teachers apparently possess genuine credentials, being “veterans of Pixar’s Braintrust, Warner Bros. Script Department, and Hollywood writers’ rooms.”
You can learn more about the self-paced course here.
The final session on “adaptations” looks particularly intriguing.
What makes a good adaptation? In this lesson, Professor Chris Riley guides you through the basic principles of adapting source material (such as novels and true stories) for film and television. . . . Recommended for anyone with a curiosity for how novels and real life stories are distilled and written into movies. Especially recommended for writers interested in making movies from short stories, novels, or real life stories.
C.S. Lewis and the rest of the Oxford Inklings were gifted storytellers. Lewis began honing his skills when he a child and collaborated with his brother Warnie to compose the tales of Boxen.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings relates an overarching saga of humble heroism. Its skilled creator weaves into the Fellowship’s quest many other fascinating tales. The trilogy is a series that spawns fresh wonders, reading after reading. As one reviewer notes, Tolkien showcases “duty, honor, perseverance, and friendship.” He continues:
That, my friends, is the power of great stories. But a good story alone isn’t good enough either. One reason that Tolkien remains popular is because his stories were about important ideas, ideas that stand the test of time.
In a rather more scholarly article, “J.R.R. Tolkien and the Telling of a Traditional Narrative,” the writer says “the literary critical question is, why would Tolkien spend so much time and effort telling such an old story?” He answers that question in the following manner.
The answer lies . . . in the purpose of traditional narrative and the intent of the traditional tale teller. The traditional tale teller, like any traditional performer, is recreative rather than creative, doing those things that the community wants (and perhaps needs) over and over again, striving not to do something totally inventive and perceptually new but rather to do the traditional thing well and, perhaps, with some special, individual flair.
Turning to C.S. Lewis, we find numerous reference to his storytelling skills. In one aptly named work, we discover why Lewis became a writer rather than a sculptor.
C.S. Lewis loved stories. Throughout his life he found it really had to make anything by hand.* He could, though, hold a pencil or a pen and was driven to write stories instead. It was a blessing in disguise! Many years later C.S. Lewis wrote that you can do more with a castle in a story than with the best cardboard castle that ever stood on a nursery table (C.S. Lewis: The Story Teller).
Encouraging Another Storyteller
One of the main reasons for the Inkling’s very existence was their mutual encouragement in writing. Members often read their works in progress and offered (occasionally gentle) constructive criticism.
As a popular author, C.S. Lewis was approached by many aspiring writers. He patiently and encouragingly responded to these contacts. Some of these correspondents were former students and friends.
One such dear friend was Roger Lancelyn Green (1918-1987). Green had been a student of Lewis’ and a member of the Inklings while he studied and taught at Oxford. The two were quite close, and he actually joined Lewis and his wife Joy during their holiday in Greece.
As an Inkling and an English professor himself, Green was destined to become a writer. In addition to his other biographies—he co-authored one of the best on C.S. Lewis—he was a noted children’s writer. In fact, among his popular retellings of various mythologies, he compiled the stories of the Greeks, Egyptians and Norse. Many of his works can be “borrowed” from the Internet Archives library.
However, years before he wrote these volumes, Green shared one of his earliest efforts with his mentor. In September of 1945, C.S. Lewis offered him a significant amount of specific advice, but begins—as all good critiquing should—with encouragement.
My dear Green– I have now read The Wood That Time Forgot and this is what I think. The general narrative power is excellent: i.e. on the question whether you have in general the story-telling talent, you may (in my opinion) set your mind at rest. I read it on a railway journey and it carried me as far as Bletchley (which was at chapter VII) without a single flagging of interest.
I particularly admired the transition from the natural to the supernatural part. This went just gradually enough to elicit one’s faith and by the right stages. I thank you for giving me the authentic thrill: as you did several times.
As noted, Lewis follows this introductory affirmation with explicit comments on various facets of the manuscript. In June of 1949, Lewis offered his friend comments on a revised version of the story.⁑
Too bad we don’t all have a mentor like C.S. Lewis. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be encouraged by such an anointed storyteller.
Chances are that you, like Tolkien and Lewis, are a storyteller as well. Which is why I shared with you the invitation to the free storytelling course linked above. I will likely sign up for it myself, since I too have a screenplay I would someday like to write.
* This was due to a the lack of a metacarpophalangeal joint in his thumb. He shared this syndrome with his father and brother. If interested, you can read “Symphalangism, C.S. Lewis Type” in an online catalog of genetic disorders.
⁑ Lewis’ comments regarding the revised manuscript are included in volume two of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, with the following introduction.
Roger Lancelyn Green, in an attempt to turn his story The Wood That Time Forgot into “a fairy tale for grown-ups,” had revised it . . . to give it a completely new ending—of which Lewis approved. The book, however, remains unpublished as it would appear to owe too much to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
All of Green’s mythologies appear to currently be in print. In the introduction to his Norse mythology volume, he provides an interesting contrast with his previous work closer to the Mediterranean.
Norse mythology is the very antithesis of Greek from the reteller’s point of view. The wealth of literature and legend available for studying the gods of Olympus is positively embarrassing, and the problem there is one of selection. The gods of Asgard, on the other hand, remain strangely aloof: the difficulty here is to find enough about them. And when the scanty material is collected, it is still harder to fit together the incomplete jigsaw-puzzle which is all that remains to us.