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This may be counter-intuitive, but I registered for a grammar class. I am aware that most people are enthused to leave sentence structure, the correct use of commas, and dangling participles in elementary school. However, some people need structure to keep from getting lost in this world--and I am one of those people.
The catalyst of this decision occurred after I studied Spanish in college. Anyone who knew me at the time could tell you that I took full advantage of that class. I would argue that, for a split-second, I might have even been fluent, but something about learning a new language fussed up my original one. I started to blank on English words, English phrases, entire English thoughts and sentences... to the point where it became uncomfortable to engage in an intellectual conversation. This being a problem because stories told to me by strangers inspire 90% of the creativity in my work.
I thought that if I continued writing it would positively effect the eloquence of my speech and I would return to normal. Luckily, to some degree, it did make it easier to engage with others, but I would still stumble on past and present tense verbs, enunciation, and effectively developing sentences with multiple concepts. So for a greater part of a year, I was struggling to communicate in a language that I believed to be intrinsic, but come to find out, even familiar words become lost and memory isn't forever.
Which brings me to the true purpose of this blog post: to complete an assignment. Describe a response to something that you learnt this week about writing. It's a loaded prompt. How often do you really learn about writing?
From the class, I learned that there are two sorts of grammarians: descriptivists and prescriptivists. The former studies how people use language while the later studies how people should use language. I could guess that you would believe, after reading from before, that I identify with the prescriptivists. And it's true, I believe that there is a proper way to use language that is precise and effective, but truly I most reckon with descriptivists. I believe that the rules are derived from natural usage and change depending on how antiquated a rule becomes. I believe that language is a democratic process that changes every day by the will of the people. With the help of this course, I will be able to regain the fundamental tools needed to participate and join the conversation.
This past spring, I had the honor of hearing Christine Vachon, producer of Carol which was nominated for six Oscars in 2016, speak at New York University's Fusion Film Festival as the Woman of the Year. There she boldly stated that she was a "storyteller" and encouraged the (majority) female filmmakers in the room to consider themselves the same. She wisely put that directors, writers, producers, cinematographers, etc. are all linked by one common thread, despite the differences of their roles, and that is to tell a visual story.
Taking this to heart, I adopted the term immediately and ever since have felt substantially more liberated in my work. In a world of three act structures and character arcs, I relish in the freedom knowing that at the end of the day, I'm simply sharing a story. This claim allows for me to look at my writing from a less detail-oriented perspective and become open to the uncharted possibilities of my stories.
But of course, I still would like to tell a great story, which is why I frequently wrestle with the details in the first place. On a daily basis, I constantly grapple with the idea that stories must be successful on both a grand scale and a personal scale. What I mean by that is that stories, at least to my belief, should be an incident, adventure, or a moment that reaches the lives of many by revealing something that initiates some sort of connection.
Most recently, I found an inspiring TED Talk by Andrew Stanton, creator of Toy Story, WALL-E, and Finding Nemo, where he unveils his formula to telling a great story. He shares that a great story infuses wonder, it carries a strong theme, it allows change, but what moved me most was when he said storytelling "means capturing a truth from your experiencing it, expressing values you personally feel deep down in your core."
In that moment, I realized that it's that core value we relate to when watching a film or hearing a story. It's that core value that brings us together, whether that might be to make a film or something else in life. Our core values become our common thread and we tell stories to remind each other of these values. These core values are what Stanton says, "Make me care." If a storyteller can pinpoint a truth that stirs my morality, that pulls my heartstrings, that grips my foundation, then they have successfully got their point across. And it is this reaction that motivates me to continue doing the work that I do as a storyteller.
About the Writer
Rannie McCants is a Harlem-based writer intimately involved in social activism. She studied Dramatic Writing at New York University and writes theater reviews for blogs that promote new theater works. Her own plays have been acted in festivals and small performance theaters around New York City. She became a semi-finalist for the 2010 Robert Fox Award for Young Writers and in 2012 she was selected to be a Mamie Earl Sells Scholar by the YWCA. Most recently, she became a 2017 Superior Performance Award recipient for her non-profit service to the McBurney YMCA. Rannie regularly volunteers her fundraising and writing skills for non-profit organizations that support civil rights and healthy lifestyle initiatives. Her unique activist and writing background has attracted the interest of television programs like The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore and America by the Numbers with Maria Hinojosa. Presently, Rannie is working on completing a pilot series dedicated to unmasking the humor and complexity of living as an "other" in a contemporary mid-western society.