Eric Miller's Story Composition Workshop

in Chennai Storytelling Festival 2024.

February 2024.  Via Zoom.


This Workshop is inspired by – and is being held in honour of – Professor George Pierce Baker and his "Workshop 47" (Playwrighting) Course, Harvard University, 1905-1924; and "Playwrighting" Course, Yale University, 1925-1933.


On the 100th year anniversary of Professor Baker's shift from Harvard to Yale (which occurred because Harvard would not provide a theatre for students' productions, and Yale would provide such a theatre).


"George Pierce Baker (1866-1935) played a great role in the development of USA theatre.  Through his courses at Harvard, Radcliffe, and Yale, he gave self-confidence, enthusiasm, and technical assistance to his students, many of whom went on to be the greatest USA theatre figures of the 20th century.  He was always giving advice to young playwrights, either singly or in groups."

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"From 1925 until he retired in 1933, Baker was professor of the history and technique of drama at Yale University, founding a drama school there and directing the university theatre.  Many innovative techniques in theatre, motion-picture, and television production had their origins in his work at Yale."

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Topics in the Story Composition Workshop would include:



One's Life Story (the Mother of All Stories). 


Themes in One's Life Story.



Creativity Exercises such as:

1) Have a Conversation with a Character in One's Memory or Imagination (Role-playing with possible Story Characters).  

2) Active Imagination. 

3) Question-based Story-making.



Examples Would be Discussed Regarding the Following:


Story Sources: Ideas, Dreams (During Sleep), Dreams (Hopes), etc.  Are There any Improvements One Would like to See (Personal or Public)?  Does One Yearn for Justice, Fairness, and/or Balance in Any Area?


If a Story One Creates is Interesting to Oneself, the Story Will Likely Also be Interesting to Others.


Relevance (the Relation of a Story to Conditions of the Current Time and Place).  In General, and in Each Time and Place:  What is On Peoples' Minds?  What Touches and Moves People?  What Makes People Tick?  What are Peoples' Deepest Hopes and Fears? 


From Idea to Story.  Personification (for Example, Having a Character Represent an Idea). 


Metaphors (a Thing Represents another Thing), and Symbols (a Thing Represents an Idea).  


Emotion.  Emotional Tension.  Ways to Build It Up.  Ways to Release It. 


It is Not Ideas, but Rather It is Characters (Feeling Emotions Due to the Situations They are In) that Drive a Story and Hold the Attention of Observers.  Where One's Emotions Go, One's Thinking Mind Follows.


Dramatic Tension, Suspense, Foreshadowing (Audience Members Expect a Consequence After Every Action, Even After Just an Appearance of an Image or An Occurrence of a Sound); and Ways to Play with These Expectations.  As the Expression Goes: Observers are "Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop".  An "Inciting" Incident (an Event that Sets a Story in Motion).  One Can Create Suspense Near the Beginning of a Story, and Develop the Suspense Throughout to a Final Climax Near the End of the Story. 


Dramatic Structure.  Theories of Story:  Problem and Solution.  "What Does a Character Want?"  "The Well-made Play" (Conflict, Climax, and Result).  Joseph Campbell's "The Hero's Journey."  Theodora Goss' "The Fairytale Heroine's Journey."  Vladimir Propp's "Loss and Reformulation of Togetherness."  Aristotle's "Catharsis." 


What is a Story Essentially About?  Are There One or More Points to a Story?  (According to the Creator of the Story, and According to Other People.)  


Action.  ("Actions Speak Louder than Words."  However, the Speaking of Words Can Also be Actions.)  Physical Actions and Behaviours of Characters Tend to Have More Emotional Impact on Audience Members than What Characters Say. 


Unity of Time (the Action Occurs Continuously) vs at Numerous Times.  Flashbacks.  Characters May Give Exposition (Background.) 


Unity of Place (the Action Occurs in One Place) vs in Numerous Places.


Unity of Action (all Events in a Story are Connected, and Contribute to the Whole) vs There are Superfluous Events.


Artistic Unity (the Story is in a Single Genre, such as Comedy or Tragedy) vs the Story is in a Combination of Genres.


Psychological Dynamics of Story Perception:  Imagination, Identification, Projection, Empathy, and Imitation.  Mirror Neurons (Neurons that Imitate Perceived Actions) – "I Felt Like It was Happening to Me".  Characters Addressing Each Other vs Characters Addressing Audience Members.  The In-performance Transference Process (Audience Members are Placed In the Positions of Characters Who are Being Addressed).


Characterisation.  Ways to Portray the Feelings, Purposes, and Motivations of Characters.  Characters Revealing Their Natures Gradually vs Characters Developing, Growing, and Transforming.  Carl Jung's Model of Character Development: Individuation (Self-knowledge and Integration of the Various Aspects of Oneself; and Achieving Clarify Regarding One's Relationship with Ideologies, Social Movements, and the Cosmos.)  Hero and Heroine.  Anti-hero.


If There is a Narrator:  What Characters Do and Say Tend to Have More Emotional Impact than What the Narrator Does and Says.


Is a Narrator Needed?  Or Can Characters Enact a Story Through Dialogue with Each Other, and Through Addressing Audience Members?  (In Drama There Usually is Not a Narrrator; in Storytelling There Usually is a Narrrator.)  


Uses of a Chorus (a Group of Characters that Comments on the Action).


Modifying Stories (Adding and Subtracting Characters and Events.  Changing Ways a Scene Ends). 



A Look at Some Favourite Stories of Participants.         


A Look at a Story: "The Tempest", by William Shakespeare.


A Look at a Story: "The Epic of the Anklet" ("Silappathikaram"), by Prince Ilango Adigal.      


Participants Could Create and Share Stories, and Receive Feedback.