So, I’ve been thinking a lot about story lately. Not a particular story, but story as an abstract noun…story as an idea.
Seriously, where does a story begin? It’s an important and very tough question for any writer. Does it start with the event I want to write about, or does it start with how my characters came to the place or time of the event, or does it start even further back to previous events that had to happen for this event I’m writing about to even be possible?
We have this idea that a story is simple thing with a beginning, a middle and an end, but those facts alone can drive a writer crazy, because often there is no beginning, no end. I love a line in the song “Closing Time” by Semisonic that says “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” There’s the definition of story in a nutshell.
For the longest time, storytelling was the only way of recording history. Before reading and writing were skills shared by nearly everyone, only the storytellers held our history. It was a powerful
position in any tribe or family to be the one who knew and could tell the stories. The storyteller was the one you went to with questions that did not have yes or no answers, questions like “where did we come from?” “why do we look the way we look?” “why don’t we eat this or that plant?” “why do we fear the big winds?”
Storytelling was entertainment, education, and moral compass. Sadly, we no longer hold the storyteller in high regard. Storytelling has been reduced to joke telling. Everyone loves a good joke, but they expect it to last no longer than, say, a minute and a half and it must have a good punchline.
Storytelling is an important skill and something we should appreciate, and I believe we should all develop and nurture storytelling in ourselves and in others. Stories are how we learn about each other, how we come to understand those around us and how we explain ourselves to the world.
During a 2012 TED talk, filmmaker Andrew Stanton told of a card that children’s TV personality, Mr. Rogers, carried with him. On the card he’d copied a quote from a social worker he knew. It said: “Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”
I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that every person has a story and that story when it is told can make a difference in the way the world sees us and deals with us. And if our story is never told? That, too, makes a huge difference in the way we fit into the world.
I think the most important fact of any story, the one thing that every story must have, the kernel that every listener wants to find in a story is …why?
Even if the final answer to that question is “we just don’t know,” the story can help us understand why it is we just don’t know. In the telling, the story is the answer, whether we like the ending or not.