On Storytelling

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I just finished reading the book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott and it has me thinking a lot about storytelling. It’s a phrase I (and a lot of creatives) throw around a lot, but my job is far from reading bedtime stories.

Every culture has its own stories or narratives, which can be shared as a means of entertainment, education or cultural preservation. Great storytelling is the practice of making the people reading or hearing these stories care about your characters, the choices they make, and what happens to them. 

What if we looked at life as a story? What if we broke down our day-to-day into characters, settings, plot, conflict, climax and resolution? 

You’re the protagonist in the story of your life, of course, but what about everything else? Place carries the weight of it all -- the plot, conflict, climax and resolution -- it has to take place somewhere. Geography plays a role in our lives, and often our experiences are tied to a spot on the map.

That one beach in Florida where your family vacationed.

The Corner Mart where you used to get ice cream every summer. 

The dive bar where you had your first drink.

The little park bench where you met your best friend.

The parking lot where you found your family dog.

We love the memories associated with these seemingly little nowhere spots, but what if we loved the places too, just for being there to let it all unfold? Places are more than where we buy groceries or grab a coffee; they’re where we build a business, start a family, celebrate success, and feel utter loss.

We know that places have history, but when we untangle it a little, make it less of a textbook and more of a folktale, it invites us to pay attention to the intricacies that make it unique.

In Bird by Bird, Lamott writes, “One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.”

If you could tell the story of a place, the one you call home, how would you tell it? Asking this question could awaken a whole series of questions that can bring out the possibilities of a place. This practice can assist in helping us see new things in a place that may not feel new at all.

Another question that is important to ask is, who needs to hear this story? Our moms, aunts and co-workers hear our stories just by being a part of our lives. However, if you had an adventurous childhood and feel that it made you a better person, don’t you think the parents of this generation would want to hear about it? If you opened a business and were overwhelmed with the support from the city, community and customers, wouldn’t you want the other potential entrepreneurs to know that it’s possible?

Know your story, know the value that place holds and know that there is power in telling that story.