Recently, I had to tell a story to a four-year-old on his birthday about a cat, a thief and a ghost. He wanted three different stories with the three different characters, but wearisome adult as I am, I made a deal with him for one super-story. I think it went quite well, because his mother told me he couldn’t stop talking about it even past his bedtime. I felt that writerly rush of endorphins myself when I was making it up, and a little while after. It wasn’t an epiphanic experience exactly; more like returning to something you’ve always known to make things clear for you. I am sure there is a word for that.
I’ve always had stories in my head. Having elaborate plots and characters conceived around dolls as a young child was obviously there. From the age of nine to perhaps eleven or twelve, there was playing ‘Bhoot, bhoot’ (trans. ‘ghost, ghost’) on the school bus, which entailed playing characters among ourselves, with ghosts involved in the plot. We sometimes played ‘Scooby Doo’ too, and that involved ghostly occurrences as well. In fact, I’d say telling ghost stories has played a major part in my life, especially considering I am the textbook definition of a scaredy cat, who doesn’t partake in them during her own light reading/viewing. My now teenage cousin always demanded them when she was a child, and I even remember having my grandmother being part of the audience once.
If you have been a regular reader of this blog but still haven’t guessed by now, I must confirm your suspicions of myself as an eccentric, theatrical, overenthusiastic, slightly mad person. In fact, the older I get, the more I see myself with a pair of external, adult eyes, and see how this behaviour would be considered childlike (not childish, I hope), downright weird to some. But, it gives you such a thrill. You have to make such an immediate connection, usually with an audience who won’t lie to you if you confuse, disappoint or bore them. Having to come up with characters, dialogue, scenes, an overall plot of some sort, all the while semi-performing it, even explaining motivations when asked, is a lot of responsibility as I think about it while writing this sentence. But, somehow those concerns vanish, or I am completely unaware of them, when I am tasked with telling a story to a young person.
We’re telling stories to each other all the time. Maybe they don’t have such short and simple narratives. They are disjointed, only periodically compounded on, often revisited in certain scenes, dialogues and characters. Whether it is gossip, news of the world, our assessments of people we know or don’t know, all our conversations employ some aspect of storytelling. Conversations are like performances. Maybe, they aren’t always as nerve-wracking, but you usually aren’t allowed to miss a beat. You can have pauses for dramatic effect, but you still have to say your line, play the notes or match the steps to communicate as effectively as possible. If you’re self-conscious, you’ll miss it, and perhaps spoil the entire thing. But, if you feel completely possessed by it, it wouldn’t matter even if you made mistakes. Because, at least you’d have done your best at making a connection. At least, you’d have done your best at telling a story.
I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be a stand-up comedian. The only time I got close to it was when I participated in an extempore speech competition in school. You only had two minutes to think and two minutes to speak on a fiction or non-fiction subject you picked on the spot. I remember mine was a story, something about the most unpleasant man I had ever met. I’ve always found people smoking near my face quite unpleasant, and so, as I was fabricating the event to the best of my ability, I got laughs that ate up quite a bit of time, making me unable to finish the story. But, I got placed second in the competition, which still makes me proud. Because, it was not just about winning, but the thrill of people coming up to me, telling me they enjoyed the story.
I am sure many of you with kids would be telling stories to them on a regular basis, and I don’t need to preach the benefits of it. There must be adults who participate in storytelling events too. I wouldn’t exactly recommend finding kids and telling stories to them, in case they aren’t around, just to test your skills. But, perhaps imagining that such an audience exists in the comfort of your solitary writing space, might help in tapping into your own impromptu storytelling skills.
Do you get to ‘tell’ stories? Share your experiences!
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