A friend of mine started telling me a story the other day while we were out on our daily 5K run. It began really promising:
“There is a bridge somewhere in Scotland,” she said, “over a shallow river, and every dog that walks along that bridge feels the overwhelming urge to jump off it. Many dogs have died there,” she finished.
“But why?” I asked intrigued.
“Don’t know. They never found out,” she said and continued running next to me as if it was perfectly OK to start a promising story, get my attention, wake my curiosity and then BAM! slamming me into a dead end wall.
“Let me stop you right there,” I said, slowing my run to a lazy jog. “This is not how you tell a story.”
“But that’s all I know,” she protested.
“In that case you have two options – either make up a suitable ending or never ever tell that story to anyone! It’s absolutely pointless.”
My friend just shrugged and we continued running in silence. She didn’t get it. She couldn’t grasp why I’ve been so disappointed. She simply isn’t a storyteller.
Everybody knows at least one person who is such a wonderful storyteller that you listen to them with mouths involuntarily open, eyes sparkling with amazement and hungrily absorbing every word. They could be describing the contents of their weekly recycling bin for all you care. But they do it with such finesse that everybody is sucked into the story right up until the very exciting end. Yes, exciting ending – that’s one of the components of a good story. But first things first.
Nobody cares if the story you are telling is entirely true. You may have changed a few details like the wind strength or the receptionist’s hair colour or the amount of alcohol consumed; you may have exaggerated a bit here and there; you may have made the build up to the exciting ending a bit longer; you may have even made the ending itself a bit more exciting. But in the end what’s important is that it’s interesting. Nobody is going to google the facts of your story but everybody would be laughing/crying/clapping (whatever your aim is) in the end.
Let’s face it – most things that happen in our everyday lives are pretty boring. That’s why we, storytellers, have to twist and model the simple daily events into interesting stories to tell at dinner. Otherwise we are facing dull conversations and our children’s sparkle-less eyes every single night. Do what you have to do to make people around you interested in what you are saying – move around, make descriptive hand gestures, play roles and change voices, be sarcastic, be funny, change the story to suit your needs. I can promise you, when you see your companions’ glowing faces or when your child snuggles next to you with the request for yet another story, you won’t be sorry.
Just bear in mind that it’s addicting.