What makes you cry when you read a story? What makes you laugh? What makes you feel sorrow? Joy? Pride? Fear? Any feeling at all?
It is the way words are placed on the page. Words communicate ideas, images, sensations, realities. These are called word pictures. We use them to create moments in a story. If a story has no moment, it is like a joke with no punchline.
Good storytelling creates moments, and moments serve purposes. Even higher purposes than we know. Our stories are filled with awe and wonder. That is the reason we tell them. Life is not boring.
When you read a story, you are looking at a painting, not a photograph. In other words, it is not reality — it’s a representation of reality. If a word picture rings true, you feel something. What you feel is a sense of reality. Not reality itself.
Don’t panic. This is a good thing.
It amazes me how people think about this. Many think if they just tell their story exactly the way it happened in every detail— mission accomplished. Not true. First of all, no one remembers an event exactly the way it happened.
Two people are watching a movie on an airplane. A truly funny comedy. One person is flying to a funeral. The other is going to a wedding. After the movie the person who has lost the loved one remembers the film as the most tasteless piece of trash they have ever seen. The other thought it was a total hoot. Both realities are true.
Human beings, without exception, distort reality based on their inner experience. Knowing this and accepting this will make you a better storyteller. It will also take you one step closer to the river.
The river is a tide of awe and wonder, not a trickle of facts and data. It flows with fluid realities bigger than you, and truths that completely engulf your limited point of view. Knowing this is essential to good storytelling.
So given human distortion, as storytellers, we use poetic license. That means we leave certain details out. And we paint other details more vividly so that the words create a moment, and the moment serves a purpose. The possibilities are endless.
One Step Forward
Take someone to a movie. A week later, when all first impressions have grown quiet, sit down alone and write the three most outstanding moments you remember from the film; 1, 2, 3. Then ask the other person to do the same. (Alone! This is not a time to edit someone else’s thoughts.)
Later, get together and have a cup of coffee. Compare and contrast your answers. This exercise can help you see how two realities can sit side by side in a theatre. It can also serve as a conversation starter that leads to deeper discoveries.
To be continued…