Storytelling is a natural instinct. It’s how we make sense of the world. It’s true for everyone, not just writers.
My friend Terry Bailey, a writer and new media artist, was telling me the other day that her ability to tell stories is what provided her a lucrative position at a law firm. There, she created visual aides to help tell the story of what had happened. Building a compelling and convincing story from the facts enabled her firm to win its cases.
The story about the law firm is particularly interesting because it demonstrates something about storytelling. You can assemble the same facts and make them mean different things.
When my boyfriend and I were first falling in love, we had to face many obstacles — including the fact that he had lost his family and spiraled into a deep depression fueled by alcohol. Our meeting began a new chapter in his life. And because we lived nearly 3000 miles apart and he had no home and no job, sometimes things began to look bleak. I told him that we could write our story as an adventure, a love story, a drama, a comedy, or a tragedy. We had ability to decide how we interpret the events that happen to us, which events to emphasize in our narrative, and which path our characters choose.
This concept has gone a long way to helping us help each other write the story we want to live. It also provides this writing exercise:
Take a story that’s stuck, one that won’t seem to resolve itself or somehow doesn’t feel true. If it is a comedy, try re-writing it as an adventure. If it’s a tragedy, try rewriting it as a mystery. Push your facts in new directions. Maybe they actually want to tell a different story.