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Why Story Matters: The Journey Begins…

For the past ten years, most of my creative energy has been devoted to co-creating the world, characters, and stories for the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. And during that time, I’ve been on a quest to figure out how to tell stories more effectively and learning about what kind of stories I want to tell.

From the start, Bryan Konietzko and I wanted our show to transcend the mold of what people expected from a U.S. Action/adventure animated series. We told a continuous story, had a hero who was a reincarnated being, and explored the spiritual side of life. All this, and it was an entertaining, action-packed cartoon. We mixed drama, action, and comedy and both shows have resonated with audiences around the globe.

At the end of 2005, I read an article in the New Yorker about Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy. Speaking in a Carnegie Medal acceptance speech, he said: “We need stories so much that we’re even willing to read bad books to get them, if the good books won’t supply them. We all need stories, but children are more frank about it.”

This quote has stuck with me for years. And the article is one of the few I’ve ever photocopied and saved in a binder. Like a fine wine, that article has aged, the pages yellowed around the edge now. But the wisdom in it still holds true, and today I’m using it as the starting point for a larger journey I’m on.

Why is it that we are willing to read bad books, sit through bad movies, or watch bad TV shows? Do we really have that much time on our hands? Are we really that bored? I don’t think so. It’s because we need those stories. We need them as much as we need food or air or water. In some primeval way, we’ve been hardwired for stories. They help us understand the world around us, help guide us how to live, and show us the potential of what we can become. And today, there are billions and billions of stories in the world, not just in entertainment, but in politics, advertising, and religion. Add to that all of our own personal stories. The ones we tell ourselves about why we are the way we are.

Stories are everywhere.

It’s my intention with this blog to explore stories of every kind, wherever and whenever they appear. From the latest movies and books, to ancient myths and everything in between. I want to find out why it is we need those stories as much as we do and what we can do as consumers and creators of stories to seek out and tell better ones. We need stories that matter. Stories that help us and the world evolve.

Let’s throw out the bad books and start reading the good ones.

I’ve been wanting to start a blog like this for a while, but I told myself a host of familiar excuses why I shouldn’t:

“I’m too busy.”

“I’m not a good writer.”

“No one wants to hear what I have to say.”

The excuses are over. The fear is still there, but I’m writing anyway. I want to tell myself a different story, with chapters like:

“I have plenty of time.”

“I love writing and I’m good at it.”

“People want to hear what I have to say.” Okay, maybe not everyone, but I think at least a few people out there will be interested. Maybe you’re one of them.

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