Oral storytelling has existed for as long as humans have been able to use language.
Every story told has a foundation that was built on stories told before it, starting at the beginning, in the tellings of ancient myths. The mythic structures utilized by storytellers have become the veins that run through and power all other stories.
One popular mythic structure is the hero’s journey. There is something special about being able to sit back and listen to a masterfully woven tale full of heroes and their adventures. As technology continues to evolve, there has been a return to oral storytelling, but in a new genre: Podcasts.
I was first introduced to the McElroy brothers in the summer of 2019. I was going to be playing Dungeons and Dragons for the first time ever, and my partner thought The Adventure Zone: Balance, a podcast run by three brothers wherein they run a comedy style DnD campaign with their dad, would be a perfect segue into the world of table-top roleplaying games.
The McElroy family immediately captured me. The brothers, Justin, Travis, and Griffin, and their father Clint, were hilarious and heartwarmingly charming. More than just a play-by-play tutorial on how to, as the brother’s call it, “Dungeon and Dragon”, it was something new.
The podcast, while focusing on the comedy already ensuing from typical DnD roleplaying, also employs an episodic narrative that blends high-fantasy storytelling with RPG gameplay. I was previously unfamiliar with both elements.
The storytelling element was elevated, as the family played out the adventure for the listeners. This wasn’t some static thing, it wasn’t a book or a memorized tale, this was action and reaction, and it was all neatly recorded and edited into an hour-long podcast.
The brothers run many different podcasts, but this one was special. It was as if the characters of a book had come to life and were performing for me, and all I had to do was chillax and listen.
Griffin, as the Game Master, prepared for his family and listeners a deluxe experience. As Justin, Travis, and Clint played their characters, Taako the wizard, Magnus the fighter, and Merle the cleric, they began unraveling the story that Griffin had crafted. The story takes place in a world out of time, where three goofs and their pals are all that stand between the life and bonds they created in their chosen home and total evil’s annihilation of the whole universe.
Over eight ‘arcs’, the boys go on myriad adventures, full of hilarious quips and shenanigans. Taako’s my personal favorite, as a flamboyant wizard who at one point, goes on a date with Death.
The Adventure Zone’s first arc was adapted into a graphic novel, The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins in 2018, and they have since released two other graphic novels that cover arcs 2 and 3, with another book covering the 4th arc on the way.
One of the most powerful things about the way in which the McElroy’s tell their story, is the fluidity and movement involved in the literal playing. As the GM, Griffin creates a base adventure, but the way the in-game story moves is wholly up to both the players and the actions they choose to make, and the chance involved in the rolling of the dice. The story makes itself as multiple different voices provide input, and the dice gods decide the character’s fates.
Another powerful attribute to this brand of storytelling is the defiance of genre. A DnD game is typically pictured as a group of friends playing around tables in basements or abandoned farmhouses, while eating salty snacks and drinking energy drinks. While DnD has always prioritized storytelling as its core element, with multiple books and videogames being created from its lore, this new adventure into a wildly broadcasted digital storytelling medium is a fantastic way to incorporate imaginative play back into creativity.
It is a reminder to all creatives to follow their gut and make weird things that push the conversation forward. What are your favorite works that defy genre? Let me know below!
Meet the blogger:
JESSICA ZICK (they/she) is a poet, essayist, and libra. They hold an AFA in creative writing from Normandale Community College, and they are currently pursuing their BFA in creative writing from Hamline University. They live in Northfield, Minnesota, the town that always smells like cereal, with their partner and two cats, Huckleberry and Valerie.
When it comes to writing on the go, away from your desktop, nothing can beat the reliable luxury of a laptop – except, maybe, a tablet. Here’s what I noticed when I made the switch.
Last Christmas, I asked for an iPad, mainly to have a better place to do digital art besides my ten year-old Wacom tablet. Before the pandemic, I was also planning on bringing it to class with me. It would save paper for notes and make my backpack lighter.
Then, I realized it’d be perfect for writing.
Everyone has had the experience of back pains brought on by backpacks overloaded with binders, textbooks, and of course, the almighty laptop. When I switched out mine for an iPad, I surprisingly noticed a difference. The standard iPad is about the size of a thin book, much more compact than the laptop I was lugging around. If you still don’t have room in your bag, they’re small and light enough to carry without hassle.
Cheaper but not Cheaper
We’re college students. We thrive on 99 cent ramen and splurge on coffee. Not everyone can afford to buy a next-gen laptop. The iPad 7th Gen is only $330 on the Apple website, compared to the MacBook Air, which starts at $999. When I switched to writing on my iPad, I barely noticed a difference. It doesn’t run slower, and you can still access your google drive and docs (or download another writing app if you don’t prefer Google Docs.)
Buying from Apple also gives the opportunity for payment plans rather than paying the lump sum right up front.
As stated above, switching to a table doesn’t decrease the functionality or accessibility while writing. However, I did have to buy a case with a bluetooth keyboard for my iPad, because using the on-screen keyboard for writing was an impossible task. Sites like Amazon and Ebay have numerous options for keyboard cases and bluetooth keyboards, at decent prices but still great quality.
Another bonus with using an iPad is that it’s connected to my phone. I am someone who constantly gets random writing ideas throughout the day, and my best friend is the notes app on my iPhone. Being able to connect my phone and tablet together allows me to pull those notes up on my iPad in the middle of writing and refresh my memory of what I wrote earlier that day or week.
In all fairness, there are a couple cons when it comes to writing with a tablet over a laptop. The biggest one – and I received it as a question from friends when I tell them I write with a tablet – is that the screen is smaller. It does make it a tad bit harder when writing, but as someone who is constantly hunched over when I’m writing it doesn;’t make much of a personal difference.
I will say this next downside is a personal preference (and might make other writers shudder.) I have recently started writing some personal pieces without capitalization (gasp!) and using the google docs app doesn’t allow you to turn off auto-capitalization. I started a piece on my laptop – sans capitalization – and found that the rest of the doc on my iPad was being forced into proper grammatical format. So if you’re a writer like me and have your own personal preferences when it comes to writing form etc, using a tablet might irk you slightly.
Given the pros and cons of using a tablet from my experience, it’s a switch I don’t plan on undoing. The efficiency and practicality of my iPad makes writing anywhere so much easier for me. If you’ve ever thought about making the jump yourself, I’d say go for it! You might be pleasantly surprised.
Meet the blogger:
REMI SHERMAN is a senior at Hamline University, studying creative writing. When she’s not spending time (in and out of class) writing, she’s playing overwatch until two in the morning and streaming BTS’ latest album. She’s hoping to be an editor after college and writing a novel in her free time.
Most of us have been reading and writing from an early age, but there’s quite a bit of information out there that may stop you in your tracks regarding the origins and stories behind your favorite words, authors, and novels. Let’s take a look at some of the weird, quirky, and wonderful parts about writing and the people behind the craft.
1) Agatha Christie’s Dysgraphia
The famous British crime writer had dysgraphia, a neurological condition that causes people to have difficulties putting thoughts onto paper. So, Christie dictated while someone else transcribed her work.
Try saying that one ten times fast. Or even once at all. Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (pronounced [noo-muh-noh-uhl-truh–
mahy-kruh-skop-ik-sil-i-koh-vol-key-noh-koh-nee-oh-sis] in case anyone wants to drop this word at a dinner party) is the longest word in the English language and refers to a type of lung disease caused by silica dust. I don’t know who came up with this word, but I would just like to ask them, from the bottom of my heart, why?
3) Fairytales to Phobias
Hans Christan Andersen, the Danish writer most known for tales such as The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid, was also known for experiencing multiple phobias. He was afraid of dogs, didn’t eat pork for fear of contracting trichinae, and carried a rope around just in case he needed to escape a fire. Andersen was also fearful of being buried alive, so before he went to bed, he’d write a note saying “I only appear to be dead.”
4) The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
Some of you may have already heard the sentence above and know that it’s more than a sentence describing an odd scenario. It is actually a “pangram”, which is a sentence that contains all the letters of the alphabet. Go ahead, check if you don’t believe me.
5) Baseball Inspiration
Haruki Murakami wrote his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, after watching a baseball game at the Meiji Jingu Stadium in Tokyo, Japan. It’s said that after he watched David Hilton hit a double, Murakami knew he could write fiction. And that he has most certainly done.
6) Words that Don’t Exist
Dord. No, that’s not a typo. Ever heard of this word? If not, it may because it’s not actually a word. It appeared in Webster’s Second New International Dictionary of 1934 and only showed up in that one edition. So why was it included in a dictionary? Well, it was due to the misreading of a note from Webster’s chemistry editor, Austin P. Patterson. It was written as “d or D, cont./density” and the d or D became “dord”. This results in a phenomenon known as a ghost word. A ghost word is defined as a word that’s never in established usage and results from errors and misconceptions. Abacot (from a misspelling of “a bycoket”), kimes (“knives”), and morse (“nurse”) are all examples of this.
7) Pieces of the Past
One of the most well-known poets, Sappho, is considered to be in the same arena as fellow Ancient Greek poet, Homer. But did you know that only one of her poems is fully intact? She was prolific and wrote at least nine volumes of poetry, but what remains of her work today are fragments on papyrus scrolls. Nonetheless, generations and even more generations to come will be able to immerse themselves in her work.
8) Pen to Paper Meditation
The act of writing has similar effects on our nervous systems as meditation. So, if you have trouble sitting still for very long but want the benefits of meditation, try mindful journaling! Not everything you write has to be at the polished level of the writers I’ve talked about above. Make a list, write a haiku, invent your own words, do whatever makes you feel more okay than you felt the moment before. Writing is one of the most powerful tools we have, so use it!
Got any other fun facts and interesting tidbits? Let us know!
Meet the blogger:
DANIELLE FRANKE is a Senior at Hamline University studying English with a concentration in Creative Writing. When she’s not studying, reading, or writing, you can find her ogling every single dog she sees while out on walks around Como Lake.
During months of self-isolation and quarantine, it often felt as though we had endless hours to spend on our own. A frequently asked question in the last year was “what quarantine hobby did you pick up?” For many of the book lovers out there, myself included, it was a time to finally catch up on the stack of unread books we own. However, no matter how much you love to read, at some point everyone needs a break. Even when taking a break from reading you don’t want to leave the world of literature, then I have the solution for you: literary podcasts!
Even the most seasoned reader can start to feel their eyes strain after hours upon hours of reading. Literary podcasts are the solution to that, as well as for other book lovers who perhaps have long commutes to their jobs. That is why I have compiled a list of awesome literary podcasts on a variety of genres so every reader can find something they would enjoy.
For the Classics Lover:
- The Great Book Podcast: John J. Miller, director of the journalism program at Hillsdale College, hosts this podcast about literary classics of the Western World. Each podcast explores a different book from western literary canon with experts of the genre. New podcasts are released every Tuesday.
For the Romantic:
- Smart Podcast, Trashy Books: Blogger, Sarah Wendell, hosts this podcast all about the Romance genre. In each episode, she interviews a guest from a variety of literary backgrounds, from authors to bloggers, editors to reviewers, and even the occasional librarian. In each interview, they cover different subjects from within the Romance genre, also included in each episode are book recommendations from within the genre. New podcasts are released every Friday.
For the YA Fans:
- Hey YA: In this podcast, the hosts discuss the latest happenings within the Young Adult genre. From book recommendations to current issues within the genre, this podcast covers it all. They are even always on the lookout for the latest film adaptations. New episodes of the podcast are released every Wednesday.
For the Sci-Fi & Fantasy Enthusiast:
- Sword & Laser: This podcast is a digital book club hosted by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt. Each month the hosts pick a book to discuss and read along with the listeners. Topics also included on the podcast are interviews with authors and other experts of the genre, and news on the latest happenings within the world of Sci-Fi and Fantasy writing, New episodes are posted on a bi-weekly basis on Thursdays.
The last entry on this list is an upcoming genre that is just starting to get more mainstream approval, and because of the recent renaissance, it is having thanks to social media apps like TikTok it had to be included on the list.
For the Fanfiction Followers:
- Fine Pairings: In each episode of this podcast the host reads and discusses a different piece of fanfiction. They cover fanfiction from a wide variety of source materials and offer insights from their own experience of writing within the genre. For the 21+ listeners, there is also the bonus that in each episode they provide the recipe for a cocktail inspired by the fanfiction they will be covering in that episode. New episodes are released every Thursday.
Hopefully from this list, you will be able to find a podcast to enjoy and maybe even get some new book recommendations. All of the hosts of these podcasts are great to listen to and this can be a safe way of inviting some new voices into your space. Happy listening and be sure to share any other great literary podcasts you find with us on Twitter!
Meet the blogger:
ABBIGAIL PRATT was a senior at Hamline University where she majored in English and minored in Philosophy. She graduated in the winter of 2020. Writing for Runestone is her first experience with being published.
Cringe? In MY fairy tales?
It’s more likely than you might think. After all, very few stories age gracefully, I’d go so far as to say hardly any of them do. Fagin is referred to as “the Jew” several times throughout Oliver Twist, there are maybe three female characters in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and don’t even get me started on H.P. Lovecraft.
Okay, fine, I get it. But why should I care about all this Disney crap?
Fairy tales are a serious part of popular culture, and the things that they teach us sometimes have merit, like true beauty includes kindness and if your friends don’t value your labor, you’re allowed to eat them. However, fairy tales also teach us racial stereotypes and harmful gender roles.
I’m not saying that kids will believe anything just because it’s in a fairy tale. Upon finishing the tale of Giselle as a child I had a very quick and illuminating conversation with my mom, in which I posited that the titular character committing suicide “over a boy” was “dumb.”
I was four. Out of the mouths of babes, as they say. Mom agreed wholeheartedly with my position, and we quickly moved on to the next installation in the book of ballet stories. That being said, not everyone has my innate inclination to question authority.
That begs the question, what the folk can we do about it?
Are you one of those splintery fairy tale people, ya weirdo?
As a matter of fact, I am very much a fractured fairy tale person. And why shouldn’t I be? They’re neat. I was always a big fan of Jane Yolen (How to Fracture A Fairy Tale) and Vivian Vande Velde (Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird), so I love a good fractured fairy tale.
But I also love a good retelling. From the gut wrenchingly disturbing (Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples) to the charmingly adventurous (Shannon Hale’s Rapunzel’s Revenge), a complete retelling of a fairy tale is always something I can get behind.
Wait a minute. I thought your whole thing was that kids are more astute than people give them credit for. So why again should I part ways with a rodent’s tucchus for better folk and fairy tales?
Because we can always be better, Subtitle Antagonist Nincompoop. I’m not saying it all has to be smiles and sunshine. After all the practice I did in grade school so that I could kill off my own characters, I would never say that.
I’m saying that lessons can always be taught better. The bad guy doesn’t have to be an anti-semitic caricature. The heroine doesn’t have to be pliant and voiceless. The witch doesn’t have to be ugly. The prince doesn’t have to be handsome.
In fact, I think I prefer it my way. Wacky and upside down, but maybe just a little bit more real.
Alright fine, you’ve convinced me. But that’s not really all that impressive given that I am a figment of your imagination.
Meet the blogger:
ARI STEMPLE is a creative writing student at Hamline. They enjoy drawing, Jane Austen, and Studio Ghibli films. This is their final year at Hamline.