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

Which Role Do You Play in Your Family?

As I a guy who doesn’t know anything about cars or building stuff, or even computers, or how to really fix anything, or sports (golf included), or politics, or business (investments and stock market crap), there aren’t seemingly many important roles left for me as a man in a family. 

Sure, I can tell you which actors from Saved by the Bell are Jewish and which songs were hits in 1983 and how tall Albert Einstein was and I can solve a Rubik’s Cube in less than five minutes every time, but how does that fill any kind of necessary void in family dynamics?

I am a walking Wikipedia with an unforgettable memory of life events, sometimes nearing borderline Asperger’s.  So by default, what is my role in my family of six?  And to see the full picture, what are the roles of each member of my family? (My parents, my sister, her husband, and my wife.)

Me: The storyteller, the writer, the historian, and the event planner.  What drives me are memories.  Good memories take place because of events.  So I enjoy planning the family’s activities. 

I tend to be the one in the family that decides what we will do with our time when we’re all together.  And if I didn’t have an agenda for everyone to follow, it’s possible we would all just sit around and do nothing.  It’s possible we wouldn’t know where to go to eat, and end up settling for something mediocre like Outback or Chili’s. 

But I take the responsibility on myself for the six of us to decide where those memories (including potential funny stories and inside jokes) will take place.  And because “life happens” around food and entertainment and going to new places, my niche is being the one to set the backdrop for those events.

My role doesn’t fall into any of the typical manly stereotypes; I am the Montgomery Moose, the Desmond Hume, the John Cusack, the Pat Sajak.  The host, the MC of the evening, the narrator, the journalist of past, present, and future.  I just can’t fix anything.

My wife: The organized one, the teacher, the nurturer, the listener.

My dad: The mechanic, the electrician, the carpenter.

My mom: The financial expert, the chef, the encourager, the conversationalist.

My sister: The interior decorator, the helper, the initiator.

Her husband: The computer whiz, the tech expert, the sports enthusiast. 

Not that anyone can limit the talents and capabilities of their own family members down to just a few roles.  Because family members are not just stereotypes or TV characters.  They’re family.

What brought all this to mind is by watching the wonderfully crafted sitcom/drama Parenthood.  I love the dynamics of the family and how they all interact.  It hit me that the members of my family all have specific roles like the characters on that show.  And also, it seems the entertainment world is oversaturated with superheroes. 

I just wanted to know what my “superpowers” are.  Now I know. 

(And in case you’re still curious, Screech and Jessie were played Jewish actors, on the show Saved by the Bell.)

Would you, the random or regular reader, be willing to share with me your role and your family members’ roles in your family by leaving a comment below?  This isn’t a clever marketing ploy to boost my numbers or make this post seem more interesting.  I am just truly interested in this topic and want to know what other random family roles are out there.