What’s Write about Storytelling

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“Whenever I’m asked what advice I have for young writers, I always say that the first thing is to read, and to read a lot. The second thing is to write. And the third thing which I think is absolutely vital, is to tell stories and listen closely to the stories you’re being told.”

-John Green

I love folklore, legends, and fairytales. Growing up in Connecticut with so much history, there were many tales. To this day, whenever we are stationed somewhere new, I insist my husband take me on the haunted/history tour because those always have the best stories.

I believe this love has stemmed from one of the best story tellers I know, my father (I have a few in my family). We would tease that we heard the story already, but we’d still eagerly listen to him retell his favorites, and we begged him to share them with our friends.

Why do we as humans tell stories? I went to the Great Courses: The Art of Storytelling: From Parents to Professionals. It was instructed by Professor Hannah B. Harvey. For her, storytelling is a powerful gift. She says, “A story well told can make us laugh, weep, swell with pride, or rise with indignation.” Whereas a poorly told story can be boring or an uncomfortable experience. Harvey explains storytelling isn’t just for entertainment, but it is a fundamental human experience. It grounds humans with “purpose, identity, and gives us continuity between the past and present.” Our stories are “a container for our deepest longings, hopes, and fears.” They’re our way of questioning life, self-reflection, and they reveal human truths as opposed to facts. Facts tell us what actually happened, truths reveal what the events meant to people.

So as writers, why should we tell stories out loud? Why should we force ourselves to make eye contact with an audience instead of our computer screens? As writers we need to learn how to cater our stories to the audience in which we intend it for (I assume at least part of John Green’s point above). It’s good to learn how to tell a story properly. Why did your audience laugh or cry? Why did your story flop? Writers need to have answers to those questions.

Professor Harvey mentioned the fundamental human experience and we need to make sure that experience comes across the page as well.

In a Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (2011, YA), Conor’s Mom has cancer, he keeps having nightmares he tells no one about, and then a big tree monster keeps visiting outside his bedroom window just past midnight.

With Conor in his grasp, the monster says to him, “And I will tell you three stories. Three tales from when I walked before.”

Conor’s reaction is disbelief that he is going to tell him stories and that they will be a nightmare for him.

The monster replies, “Stories are the wildest things of all…Stories chase and bite and hunt.

Conor of course is still not frightened, “That’s what teachers always say. No one believes them either.”

The monster continues, “You will tell me a fourth and it will be the truth. Not just any truth. Your truth.

Conor still insists that it won’t be scary.

You know that is not true, the monster said. You know that your truth, the one that you hide, Conor O’Malley, is the thing you are most afraid of.”

Conor will never tell the truth about what really happened in his nightmare and instead asks, “And what if I don’t”

Then I will eat you alive.”

Now I cut some from the scene, but you get the gist. There it is, writing friends, find your truth (perhaps via story telling) and release it into your work or be consumed by it ;).

“The critic hates most that which he would have done himself, if he had the guts.” – Steven Pressfield.

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