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TGIF: Storytelling Lessons from the Great Gatsby

“Gatsby’s in the zeitgeist once again,” someone recently said. It’s true that this great American novel of passion, illusion, recklessness and deceit, which chronicles the Jazz Age, is full of life and resonance today, and not just because Leonardo will portray Gatsby in the new movie.

Published nearly a century ago and filmed five times (not counting the latest Baz Luhrman version), Gatsby the character entered the vernacular long ago. You know who you mean if you say someone is “Gatsby-esque” or had a love for someone like Daisy Buchanan.

Its major set-pieces– lavish, champagne filled parties; hushed brushes with unsavory organized crime figures;  joyrides in expensive cars – are still the stuff of celebrities and wanna-be celebrities today.

What did F. Scott Fitzgerald know about the timelessness of these themes and what they say about culture today?  Money and power are so worth attaining that maintaining an illusion in order to do so can become a full-time occupation.

So, if you want to tell a story that endures, how do you start? What are your inspirations? Can it even be planned?  Of course not, but you can emulate what great artists and chroniclers of their time, such as Fitzgerald, have done.

Be an observer of the culture around you. Capture interesting conversations and people. This is easy to do in an era where everything you wear, eat and talk about is immediately saved for posterity on a social media site.

Learn to tell a story by listening to others who do it well. This includes classic storytellers like Fitzgerald as well as journalists like Malcolm Gladwell and Susan Orlean, and even TV writers like Vince Gilligan.

Keep it simple. The brain gets overwhelmed when trying to process too much information.

Be mindful of your openings and closings. Make sure to begin and end your tales with the strongest material you’ve got.

Fitzgerald said it well: “My whole theory of writing I can sum up in one sentence. An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward.”

Got any advice for creating something that will last? Let us know in the comments section.

 

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