The Art of Storytelling: How to Be a Good Storyteller- Start in the Action or Plot, Note the Irony and Comedy, Then Do a Quick Recap

I’m not good at it.  I just follow a formula I made up.

Last month my Italian second cousin Phyllis from Kenosha, Wisconsin left me a comment on my post People Watching in Nashville Traffic, saying, “I love your stories!”  Until then, it had never crossed my mind that I even told stories.  I’ve always seen myself as a younger Grandfather Time- the voice of a man who keeps one foot in the past and one in the present, in order to keep a nostalgic feel on everything “new” idea I write.  Just an involved narrator.

I’ve always thought of myself as a commentator on life.  A writer of nonfiction.  There’s no hesitation in me admitting I’m no good at making up stories- fiction is something I am only a spectator of, not a creator.  What I can do is embellish the story that is already there.

Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon

By connecting the facts to old school pop culture references with a subtle smart Alec touch.  Finding ways to make the ordinary occurrences of life seem more interesting than they are.  My favorite author, Michael Chabon, refers to it in his book Maps and Legends, as “the artist’s urge to discover a pattern in, or derive a meaning from, the random facts of the world”.

 

And that’s basically what I’m doing.  And I get so much out of it.  It makes me feel like, in a sense, I’m about to prove the world’s wisest man ever, King Solomon, wrong, when he said there’s nothing new under the sun.  (Though he’s still obviously right.)

Because everyday life events actually are more interesting than they seem.  They may just need to be seen from a reversed diagonal angle.

So now I’m embracing the fact that intermittent in all my quirky observations are actually little stories.  The tag “storyteller” became even more real to me yesterday as I was conspiring with my sister to write Which Role Do You Play in Your Family? When I asked her what my roles are, the word “storyteller” came up write away.

There are certain things about yourself you can only learn from other people.

Frank Lapidus

Maybe my surprise in all this is the connotation that the word “storyteller” conjures up in my head.  Some eccentric, animated man looking like Frank Lapidus from LOST (for some unknown reason) telling a corny ghost story to a bunch of kids gathered around a campfire who all gasp at the end of the tale when he says, “And the ghost of Tom Joad still haunts this campground today in the form of the wolf that killed him…”  And of course, right as he finishes that sentence, the storyteller’s buddy, who has been hanging out in the woods waiting for his cue, howls at the top of his lungs, for dramatic effect.

 

But now I get it.  Storytellers can also recite true stories.  Nonfiction.  That is my specialty.  And now that I better understand who I am as a writer and communicator, I am starting to realize my frustration when people don’t tell stories the way I like to tell them (and hear them).

Like the guy at work who drags out the end of the story until the last sentence.  And I think to myself, “You can’t do that!” Because I get annoyed waiting to find out the point of the story and I stop listening and start thinking about something else, and whatever I start thinking about instead ends up becoming a new post on this site a few days later.

Or the friend of a friend who uses the punch line or climax of the story as the opening line.  Again, “You can’t do that!”  Because then I feel like there’s really no point in sitting around to hear all the details.

What that tells me about my own form of storytelling is that I have a formula for it:

1)     Start the story in the first moment of action and/or the plotline.

2)     Get to the resolution of the story by the second paragraph, approximately 1/3rd or halfway through the length of the post (or if the story is being told orally, 1/3rd or halfway through the time set aside to tell the story).

3)     Spend the rest of the time or page space picking out the irony and humor of the story’s events.  By not ending the story when the story actually ends, but instead, ending on an provoking or comedic recap note, it opens up the door for the listeners to share in the story- because the story is resolved, yet left open-ended.  (Like the finale of LOST.)

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on storytelling, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

Open Mouth, Insert Fruit by the Foot: Oral Fixation and How the Mouth is a Pleasure Zone

The psychology behind making mouths happy.

In 1905, Jewish neurologist Sigmund Freud presented his theory on what he called “oral fixation”.  It basically said that if an infant was weaned too early or too late, when they became an adult, they would be “hungry” for activities involving the mouth: smoking, overeating, being extremely talkative, being addicted to sugar, alcoholism, biting, chewing on toothpicks…(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oral_fixation#Oral_fixation).

However, tests on Freud’s theory have never produced any significant evidence proving it to be valid.  Therefore, if anything, his theory on oral fixation is interesting, but not compelling.

And while I, along with pretty much anyone else in the history of the world who has heard about it, definitely don’t take Freud’s theory of oral fixation seriously, the theory has caused me to dwell a little bit on the human obsession of stimulating our senses by what we put in or near our mouths.

Even people who pretty much have never been around babies all that much (I’d almost say I qualify for that description) recognize that babies explore and test their surroundings by putting objects in their mouths.  Not just food, but toys, live animals, clothes- it doesn’t matter.

I could see how as adults, we fall back on this behavior.  After all, what is so enjoyable about swallowing a delicious food or drink?  Not much.  It’s all about the sensation of bringing that food item up to our mouths, tasting it, and chewing it.  So in theory, the only real difference between eating a piece of red licorice and chewing a piece of bubble gum is that we swallow one, but not the other.

Of course, a piece of candy will “fill us up” more than a 5 calorie piece of gum.  But when we eat sweets, we’re typically not eating to “get full”.  Maybe as a snack to tide us over or as a way to top off a meal.  The reason we eat sugary snacks is because it’s fun.  And having fun makes us happy.

Even contrasting that example to the joy of eating a good juicy, homemade burger- I eat a burger on occasion not only because it tastes good, but also because it fills me up.  Because if I simply wanted to be filled up with food, I could eat an endless list of other things, including a huge salad topped with beans and rice, instead of the burger.  But eating a burger typically is more likely to release more pheromones in my body, causing me to feel happy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pheromones).

So what does all this mean to me personally?  What do I walk away learning from this?

Anyone who has ever read a few of my “healthnutshell” posts knows that I think sugar is the devil (unless it is eaten in whole fruit form, not juiced).  But sometimes, I give in to a little bit of sugary awesomeness.  For the next two weeks, Starbucks is doing a happy hour promotion where their Frappuccino’s are half off from 3:00 to 5:00 PM.

So this past Sunday afternoon, at 4:47 PM, my wife and I strolled in the Starbucks right down the road from our house.  Because I had already drank coffee that morning and didn’t want to overdue it on the caffeine, I told the barista, “Make me the manliest drink you sell: a tall Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino”.

As my wife and I sat there enjoying our sugary Frappuccino’s there in the coffee shop, discussing our individual roles in my side of the family (“my dad is the mechanic/carpenter, my brother-in-law is the computer whiz, so what am I?…”) , I consciously focused on the happiness that my Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino was bringing me.

The worst way to drink a sugary drink is to just simply chug it like water.  The best way is to let it roll all over your tongue to the point you don’t really taste the sugar, then slowly swallow it.

Here is the most important thing to remember when choosing the size of any food item:  You are buying the amount of time you will enjoy the product.  You pay more money for a large, so it takes long to consume.  If you order a small size, you have less time to enjoy it.  Unless you eat or drink it slowly.  Like I do.

Slowly enjoying a Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino is most comparable to smoking a sweet cigar.  When smoking a cigar, the smoke isn’t intended to enter the lungs.  The smoke is meant to be tasted and enjoyed in the mouth.  It’s not the same as smoking cigarettes , where the smoke hitting the lungs is the whole point- or so I’ve read, on Wikipedia.

So while I laugh at Freud’s theory on oral fixation (the idea that incorrectly weaned infants become overeating, smoking, habit-forming adults), I do recognize that there is a connection between a person’s physical health and how much they give in to oral stimulation- specifically when it comes to eating, drinking, and smoking.

Each time I deny my mouth its “oral fixation” on juicy burgers and Frappuccino’s and honey berry flavored cigars, it is an absolute fact that I am always doing my body a favor, but not my mind.  I just have to remind myself, those things are for special few-and-far between occasions.  Because the truth is, I can get by most days with green salads, salmon, fruit, oatmeal, water, and chewing gum.  I admit though; it’s not easy trying to fix my oral fixations.