Life, Photography, Writing

Should we tailor our lives to fit the story structure or show it how it is?

Today I wanted to write freely with just a prompt as a starting point. I came up with this prompt whilst I was reading Austin Kleon’s book ‘Show Your Work!’, which was one of the many books I borrowed from my college library the first week I joined. Overall, I enjoyed the book and found a lot of what he had to say very valuable, but I found that I disagreed with his view on how to share your work.

On page 98 he says: “The most important part of a story is structure. A good story structure is tidy, sturdy and logical. Unfortunately, most of life is messy, uncertain, and illogical. A lot of our raw experiences don’t fit into a traditional fairy tale or a Hollywood plot. Sometimes we have to do a lot of cropping and editing to fit our lives into something that resembles a story. If you study the structure of stories, you start to see how they work, you can then start stealing story structures and filling them with characters, situations and settings from your own life.”

It was this paragraph that caught my attention and got me thinking: Should we tailor our lives to fit the story structure or show it how it is?

I’ve been to a fair few talks and masterclasses in the last few years in an endeavour to improve my photography, YouTube videos and writing and a lot of them put a lot of emphasis on telling stories. I know that having a story to tell is essential to engaging your audience in whatever it is you’re doing and I don’t disagree with that, but I don’t necessarily agree that you should have crop and edit your story to fit the common story structure.

For the sake of this post, I’m going to use a vlog as an example piece of work because I feel it is fairly ubiquitous; if you’re filming a vlog, then you need to make sure there is something worthwhile happening in it. Often, this is just someone’s day or week, as they do something worthy of filming and the start of the day creates the beginning, the activity creates the climax and the end of the day creates the resolution. I’ve been vlogging for 6 months now and am by no means an expert, but I don’t feel that constantly sticking to this structure is particularly effective.

I personally feel that the idea of editing your life to fit the ‘storybook mold’ is quite an old-fashioned point of view that comes from our parents and grandparents generations. This may sound strange since it is our generation that uses social media the most, but it is also our generation that is moving away from perfectly structured Instagram feeds, that very much resemble a highlight reel and into showing our own realities. I know that I would find it far more interesting and valuable to read about someone’s real, ‘raw experiences’ – to use Kleon’s words – than just hear about everything that is going right in their life. Of course I would want to follow their successes, but I want to see the failures too!

No one’s journey is perfect and we all have times when we want to give up, when we burst into tears, or when we feel like all hope is lost, but it’s this that makes us all profoundly human and makes the victories so much sweeter!

So is there a balance?

As I said, I do agree that having some kind of story to tell is important to capture your audiences attention, but I definitely don’t agree that we should cut out all of the real and raw parts of our life, in favour of fitting into a pre-cut template.

Sticking with the vlog idea, I started my YouTube channel because I wanted to show my life to the world and I wanted to show all of it. I wanted to show the struggles of living with a disability in a world that wasn’t made for me, as well as sharing my passions and doing some other more ‘pedestrian’ videos too. Some of my more sit down videos do follow the storybook template because it can be effective when trying to share a process or give advice, but I certainly don’t limit myself to that and am happy to leave in some bloopers for a laugh since I don’t think that takes away from the overall message. Of course, there is a time and a place for that because I appreciate that you might want to leave bloopers or funny moments in on a professional, commissioned video, but we are just talking about sharing your work here, so let’s leave the professional side out for now.

When it comes to my vlogs however, I am much more relaxed with how I present them. ‘Vlog’ essentially means ‘Video Log’, so all they are is a log of what you’re doing in a day and day to day life does not fit the ‘storybook mold’ just like Kleon said. I don’t think that this means you should edit your life until it does though.

When I’m interested in someone’s work whether it be a photographer, a writer or an artist, I’m almost always interested in the person behind the work as well and I think the same can be said for a lot of other people too. Of course there will always be some people who just like the work and that’s the end of it, but most people will want to know more about how it was created, what it took to get there and eventually you as a person too.

It is often said that building a connection with your audience is essential to marketing and success and it is because it what keeps people interested, but how do you expect to keep or even establish a connection when you’re editing your life to the point where it become unrecognisable as yours? An audience can tell when creators are being genuine or not because our generation has grown up with them and it is painfully obvious when parts are being edited out, which most people don’t appreciate. When you’re sharing your work, it’s obviously your choice about exactly how much you share and you don’t have to tell your audience everything about you by any means, but keeping it real and sharing some of the parts that don’t fit the structure is becoming more and more essential.

Sharing our lives and our work is always going to be a bit of a grey area, with so many conflicting opinions, but I strongly believe that sharing and connecting with others is nothing but a positive thing when done responsibly. Sticking to the story structure might get people’s attention, but it won’t keep them engaged in the long run in a world where people are striving for more real relationships and raw experiences to connect over.

Over and Out

Inspired by the book ‘Show Your Work! – 10 ways to share your creativity and get discovered’ by Austin Kleon

(2) Comments

  1. Charlie Halfhide says:

    I totally agree with you! It comes back to that whole thing of you only see ‘x’ amount of someone’s day/ life when you’re watching a vlog or something like that anyway. When my friends say things like “how are you so productive?” I whip out my planner. Sure some days are super full… Others are completely blank! Both is okay. I don’t want to live like I’m trying to make a plot point of every day of my life :’)

    1. Samantha Drage says:

      Exactly! I think is has quite a lot to do with changing attitudes towards social media as the book I read it in was written by someone in their 30’s/40’s and it was written a good few years ago, so they probably aren’t as in touch with the online world as we are.

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