Every moment in time, no matter how brief, serves as the setting for billions of experiences playing out around the world. Every individual has conflicting storylines from their conscious and subconscious battling every second of the day. Yet we’re obsessed with telling and consuming stories that deal with one perspective, one event at a time. What’s that about?
I found myself on the campus of The New School last week and dropped in on a session led by Chi-hui Yang, a film curator and educator based in the city. Shortly after taking my seat, the phrase “challenge linear narratives with simultaneous histories” fell from Mr. Yang’s lips and I promptly ascended to writer geek heaven.
Yang challenges the played out trope of linear narratives (first this happened, then this happened, and then this…) by screening together films that tell different stories that happen to occur at the same time. Showcasing simultaneous histories complicates situations and reveals things each piece may only hint at on their own. It forces the audience to ask questions: Did these events impact each other? How could they not? What kind of world allows these radically different stories to occur at the same time?
The strategy reminded me of one of my favorite creative collectives, Black & Sexy TV. The universe of their programming consists of many overlapping stories. One of my favorite stories is that of Nia, who was introduced as a minor character on the male-dominated series “That Guy,” before becoming the main subject of a new series “Becoming Nia.” You may be thinking, gee whiz that sounds like a spin-off, not exactly revolutionary storytelling. Pause yourself.
Despite premiering after two seasons and a film spawned from the “That Guy” series, the story of “Becoming Nia,” plays out in parallel to plot lines the audience has already seen on its sister show. Sometimes whole scenes are reused in a different context. So, about that moment Nia barged in her son’s father’s house on “That Guy” and we all thought she was a baby mama with boundary issues? “Becoming Nia” let’s us see it again from her perspective, forcing us to fix our face as the layers and nuance of the scene are revealed.
Simultaneous history makes a moment fuller, more complicated. It’s a concept Black & Sexy plays with a lot in its other shows. In doing so, the independent network illustrates the breadth and complicated nature of the Black experience down to a single moment, and fulfills it’s mission to show “a true reflection of [young, progressive, Black audiences’] modern culture” in function and form.
Apply the simultaneous histories concept to your work:
- Creation: Retell a linear narrative with a horizontal view. Choose a single moment in a story and tell it from every characters point of new.
- Curation: Juxtapose two radically different works from the same period. What meaning can be drawn from their differences? What similarities does the pairing highlight?
- Marketing: Show the collaborative nature of your creative process through the stories you tell on social media. When you’re sketching a concept, what is going on in your head? What are you collaborators doing?