Storytelling has always been one way people process life, happy and sad.
Angelo Merendino found that telling the story of his wife Jennifer’s fight with breast cancer helped him create meaning from the experience. He wrote an iBook, “The Battle We Didn’t Choose,” and in the Ted Talk below, Angelo tells how he met his wife and how, shortly after they married, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Angelo and Jennifer’s story was a global inspiration. As I watched the video, I was struck by how powerful the story was, and I realized that, in part, it was because it revealed Angelo and Jennifer’s love story first (including the influence of his own parents’ love story) before she received her diagnosis.
Angelo’s story reminded me of something one of my writing advisors told me years ago about storytelling. “You have to give readers a reason to care about your characters by letting the reader understand who the characters are up front.”
Angelo created a very moving tribute to his wife in pictures, print, and in this Ted Talk. He says these photos and the story were created out of necessity. His need to make meaning out of the tragedy continues to have a powerful impact.
Earlier this week, the New York Times ran an article by Susan Dominus about novelist Stephen King and his family. In “Stephen King’s Family Business,” I learned that two of King’s three children have gone into the “family” business of writing novels and one son is married to another novelist. Wow. Can you imagine a family of novelists?
One thing that struck me was when King explained that as he and his novelist wife, Tabitha, put their children to bed at night, they didn’t read stories to their children, instead they asked their children to tell them stories. What a great idea and what a wonderful way to encourage young people’s imaginations.
Even as an adult, I try to think of ways to stimulate my imagination such as:
* I practice oral storytelling whenever I can, paying attention to my audience to see if I’ve hooked them. Read more
Are you a storyteller? I come from a long line of storytellers. They’re not necessarily writers (in fact, I believe I’m the first “writer” in the family tree), but they are serious tellers of stories.
I wrote about my family’s storytelling in my memoir. In one scene, I’ve just come home from 4-H camp with a sprained ankle and my father has met me in the parking lot of our grocery store with bad news about my cousin and best friend, Susan. Read more
Have you ever had a story or scene to write but struggled with finding a way into it?
I have a friend who’s known for the stories she tells. She’s a keen observer of people and life and has a way of making scenes come alive. By observing her oral storytelling technique, I’ve learned how to find my way into writing scenes and stories.
Storytelling has been used since the beginning of time as a way to process life. Before paper or printing presses existed, stories were told verbally. My friend instinctively adopts the techniques of natural storytelling by creating foreshadowing, suspense, strong images, and closure. When she tells a story, I can tell she feeds off her audience, whether it’s one or several, for cues that her story resonates.
If you’re struggling with how to get into a scene or story, you might try telling it to a friend or two.
While some people say you don’t want to “talk your story out” for fear of losing the energy of it, you might find it could actually be a useful tool if you do it with purpose. Read more
Years ago, when I first started writing prose, I remember a literary agent said he and his wife never watched TV unless they were at the gym or a local bar because they don’t even own a TV. They focus all of their attention on reading.
Looking for role models for my literary life, I thought, “Aha…I won’t watch TV either.” It made sense. Less time in front of the tube equals more time writing or reading. My husband and I didn’t watch much TV anyway, but we did have our favorite shows we’d record and watch later.
At some point in my literary life—after graduating from my MFA program—I realized that being a writer wasn’t just about the ability to write well. Just at important, if not more so, is the ability to tell a good story. Read more
In his acceptance speech for the 2007 Moth award in New York City, author and storyteller Garrison Keillor tells how his life in storytelling began after the drowning of his older cousin. Keillor was supposed to be taking swimming lessons that summer after the drowning but, in his first act of defiance, he rode past the smells of chlorine wafting from the YMCA and continued on to the library where he immersed himself in books and storytelling.
Keillor says the purpose of storytelling is to become intimate with strangers–something he has made his life from in hosting the radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion,” for nearly forty years.
What is the need that drives us to become storytellers? Every writer and storyteller has an event or series of events that brought them to storytelling.
My foray into storytelling was triggered by my mother’s descent into dementia in her mid-sixties. I wanted to tell the story of her difficult life that ended with her eventually forgetting all of her life’s experiences, almost as if the forgetting was a blessing for her.
Watch the 8-minute video below of Keillor and ask yourself what motivates you to be a storyteller:
Story ideas are everywhere but how do you find one that can sustain and excite you through the long process of writing an essay, novel, or even a short story?
Here are three earlier blog posts (including some exercises) to help you find what works for you:
Don’t write what you know, write what sets you free
Write to your white-hot center
Stuck on what to write? Consider these big ideas