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This guide is part of an ongoing series I’ve entitled “Aristotle’s Guide”, where each new guide will discuss a chapter from Poetics by Aristotle - considered to be the greatest guidelines ever written about storytelling and drama.
This guide explores the lessons of Chapter 4 from the book.
You can read the last one here.
So, first of all, let’s acknowledge the 2,300 year old elephant in the room… I am returning to writing these guides after an 8-week break. And I have two brilliant reasons for taking this break! First, I was traveling for 6 of those 8 weeks, which made concentrating on this stuff pretty tough. Second, during that travel I misplaced the copy of Poetics I was using. I think it’s somewhere in California right now. I wish it well.
You might be thinking - why take the book without if you weren’t going to use it? Well, in hindsight, you have the right idea there. But I didn’t plan to not write these guides while I was traveling, and I definitely didn’t mean to lose the book. Anyway, my new copy arrived today so here we are, back on schedule. Also, I hope you didn’t take a break from writing while I was taking a break from writing these, because I was writing stuff besides this during this break. You can catch up on what all that was on my weekly podcast Storytalking With Lakshya.
So, since we both need a little bit of a refresher on where we left this series, let’s review things quickly.
So far, in the first 3 chapters of Poetics, Aristotle has talked about how all art is imitation. All stories are imitating something real, or at least something based on the reality we observe around us. He’s also distinguished how these imitations differ - by the medium, by the objects, and by the manner. Medium means what kind of art it is - poetry, drama, music, painting, and so on. Object means the characters in your story - the people you create to deliver your message. Manner means the narrative method you use to create that imitation - namely first-person or third-person.
In chapter 4, Aristotle starts off by talking about how ‘poetry’ and the will to create stems from a will to learn. Since as children, we learn by watching and imitating older people, we eventually end up trying our own versions of those imitations, which gives birth to creativity.
Imagine this. You’re 5 years old, and your older sibling, who could be about 8, teaches you a game to play. You learn the game, and then you realize, you enjoy it quite a bit. But there is one aspect of the game that you don’t enjoy. So what do you do? Stop playing the game? No, you improvise. You change the aspect of the game you don’t enjoy, and replace it with something that you do. You’ve just invented your own version of this game. That’s you creating… your own art… so to speak.
Here’s the even more interesting bit - imagine a 1,000 5 year olds playing the same game with their siblings, and each one changing the rules just a bit to fit what they like. That’s how… and that’s why… every storyteller has a unique voice. Because they each have their own “nature” and preferences that inform their creative voice.
Stories cannot emerge, or at least, not be unique to your own creative voice, without you experiencing new things, feelings, situations, and it is the entirety of those experiences that informs your full creative voice. Without learning, you can’t create. And without creating, and experimenting and failing, you can’t learn new ways of telling stories.
Aristotle also gets into that “nature” of storytellers. He says that those with “graver” spirits tend to imitate life… and create characters who imitate noble people. Writing about gods and such. And the “trivial” sorts of storytellers… write characters who imitate the “meaner” types of people who exist. That sort of writing eventually led to satire. Then comedy. Then dramedy.
Basically, if I’m getting this bit correct from Arsitot-y, if you want to tell interesting stories… don’t make your characters saints. Make them… sinner-adjacent? Or at least give them characteristics that make them relatable to the non-gods in the audience.
That’s a wrap on chapter 4 of this book and part 4 of this series.
I’ll see you in the next one. And I’ll try to be more regular now.
In the meantime... keep livin’ and keep writin’ my friends.
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