JOE: Why, hello there! Welcome to the Written Out Loud blog, a series of deep (and occasionally shallow) investigations into the joy, nature and purpose of storytelling.
Every week, Joshua Shelov (Founder & CEO) and I (Joe Skoff, Senior Story Director) will take turns exploring the awesome and mysterious power of stories - from Greek classics to addicting TikToks to the latest episode of Succession. Sometimes we’ll shine a light on the amazing storytelling that’s happening inside our program - the stories our remarkable students are creating with each other.
Who knows - we may even call YOU at some point, to get your take on a story you love.
Now I’m going to pass the mic to Josh, so he can introduce himself. Buckle up. It’s about to get fun.
JOSH: Thank you, Joe. Before I introduce myself, do the people a favor and tell them just a LITTLE bit more about yourself - you’re 24, you’re two weeks away from moving to New York City for the first time, you’ve literally been living in Joseph Campbell’s log cabin for four months (true story)…come on man, this is good stuff, give it up for the people.
JOE: Alright, alright, for the people! In addition to Josh’s description, I am an avid meditator, a somewhat competent stage actor, and a total nut for writing screenplays. It’s true that I’m setting out for the Big Apple in only a few weeks time, and am totally excited and terrified at the prospect of entering such a massive creative space. I’ll be sure to let our readers know if I succeed or fall flat on my face. Now Josh, please, take it away before I start singing a Broadway song about leaving home.
JOSH: Much better. Now, you see, as a result of you revealing a bit of vulnerability, a bit more detail about the risks and obstacles that lie ahead of you, now, we, your readers, are not merely “following” you. Now we are WITH you.
Now we ARE you.
That’s the goal.
I’m going to try to keep the lessons brief and bulleted here in our blog; one of my favorite bloggers, Seth Godin, writes enviably short blogs, each containing only one core point. We’re going to try to do the same thing here.
What Joe has just done by revealing a bit of vulnerability in his introduction to you is one of the core principles of storytelling. It’s literally one of the first things we point out to all our students, young and old. It’s called the “skin jump.”
If you want to tell stories well, which of course you do, one of the very first things you must do is to get your audience to leave their own skin behind, and enter the skin of your protagonist. This is called the “skin jump.”
This is the good storyteller’s opening trick. It is not done by accident. The good storyteller executes a skin jump deliberately, by revealing their protagonist’s vulnerability. That is precisely why Harry Potter is introduced by the Transphobe Who Shall Not Be Named as an abused and neglected child. It’s why Luke Skywalker is introduced not happy and content but longing, deprived of the life he desperately wishes to lead.
When we are introduced to vulnerable protagonists, our “hearts go out to them.” That’s a critical phrase in storytelling. When an audience member’s heart goes out to a vulnerable protagonist, they do more than just observe them. They BECOME them. Et voila: the skin jump.
Learn how to create a good skin jump, and guess what: you get to take others with you on your journey.
In this blog, and more broadly, in our company, Written Out Loud (I like to think of us as a company with a lowercase “c,” like a theater company, or a company of fellow travelers), we’re going to teach you a bunch of these tricks. Our hope is that you do more than merely follow us. Our hope is that you join us. There is room for many more than nine companions in our fellowship. Satchel up.
Welcome to Written Out Loud blog. It’s not going to be a journey where we just tell you stuff. It’s going to be a journey where we learn stuff, together.
Here’s MY vulnerability.
I’m Joshua Shelov, I’m the founder and CEO of Written Out Loud, which is, as far as I can tell, the only company dedicated specifically to teaching kids the timeless and unbelievably powerful craft of storytelling. We’ve transformed over 1000 kids into published authors, and given kids a joyful connection to writing that they never knew they had.
And yet, deep down - I swear, this is true - I feel like I barely know the first thing about storytelling. I’m not kidding.
I’m learning as I go, as much as I can, as fast as I can. But this subject and craft is so massive, so profound and mysterious, I feel like the only way to approach it is by confessing to you that I, just like you, am just beginning.
That’s what this blog is all about. We’re desperate to learn more about how stories work; we NEED to know more about how stories work. And we’re going to dedicate this space to sharing everything we learn along the way, with you. The journey will be long, winding, and never-ending. We’ll wander off the path for no good reason, and then stumble our way back, and compare notes. I hope this journey goes on for a long, long, time. And I hope you look forward to our chapters. I promise to try to keep them short. :)
Thanks for taking this first step with us. See you next time.
JOSH & JOE
P.S. Joe living in Joseph Campbell’s log cabin is no joke. More on that next time.