Telling A Story

Having blogger friends is great. They often inspire me, in fact, today Erin M. Feldman’s post, Good Storytellingdid just that. She talked about telling a good story and having a voice. The follow post, in two parts, was written as comments on her post. I thought I’d share it here, in case you hadn’t seen it earlier.

Comment 1  (A Story of Mine)

My mother used to marvel at how intently I watched Gilligan’s Island, even though I’d probably seen the episode two or three times before. She could talk to me and I wouldn’t hear a word.

When I got to college, I fell in with a group of miscreants who would party, get in trouble, and some would go on to national championships and Olympic gold medals. They lived life on the edge and were constantly aware of how their actions would be part of a future story.

I was nineteen, and my friends (many of them were athletes), were at the Field House, a bar in Iowa City. After an hour or so, I decided to play a game of pool. I won, and as is the tradition, the winner stays at the table. It wasn’t my first time with a cue in hand and after two hours, I was still there.

Back in the day I always wore a fedora, because I thought it looked cool. It looked especially cool when hunched over the table lining up a shot. My friends had gathered around and said they were headed off to a party, elsewhere. The balls had just been racked and I was about to break. At this point in the evening we were playing ten dollars per game, so the money was set on the edge, and I was ready to strike the cue ball.

It was one of those moments that seemed perfect for a story.  I moved the cue ball a little bit to the right and took aim at the second ball in the rack. My opponents, a bunch of snotty, rich, frat boys, who were the natural enemy of the athlete, were on the far side, just seething at the fact that I’d been winning for so long.

I looked up to my friends, “I’ll be with your shortly,” and then reared back and drove the little white ball with bottom right English, into the rack. The thunderous clap of the break sent the balls flying around the table. Nobody saw what I did, for I knew to keep my eye on the cue ball. It came off the rack, went into the rail and then headed back towards the middle of the exploded triangle of balls.

I leaned my cue up against the table. My right hand picked up the twenty dollars, as my left gave a tip of the fedora and I said, “Thanks for the games.”

There was confusion on the face of my opponents and his friends, but only for a second. The eight ball slowly made its way through the traffic of balls and then crept right up to the edge of the side pocket. It dropped in, the game was over, my friends erupted with cheers, and I turned and walked away without another word.

I could have danced or been more dramatic, but I knew that it would make a better story to exit calmly. Among my friends, there aren’t many stories that are centered on me, as I was far from the most adventurous, but that one sticks and is still told, from time to time.

I grew-up with TV, loved Garrison Keller (because my father did), and was fascinated with stories. I was so intent on Giligan’s Island, because it wasn’t just the images, it was the actors behavior, the pauses for the laughter, the way they would change scenes to keep up the drama, and every little detail that made it interesting.

Stories are everywhere and if one watches them closely, then anyone can tell a story.

Comment 2 (Analysis of My Story)

The How

I feel compelled to explain the structure of my comment, because it relates to the how of telling the story.

Paragraph 1: A comment from my childhood, it is short and then that is all. I don’t explain why it is significant, but the reader figures there is a point and reads on.

Paragraph 2: “When I was in college” …okay, obviously I’m about to tell a story. I put in a tidbit about something rare, Olympic gold medals. I have actually known quite a few people that have participated in the Olympics and two that have won gold medals. It isn’t important to the story, but it does add intrigue and also paints an image of what my friends might look like, physically, without me describing it.  Show don’t tell, is the old mantra.

Paragraph 3:  I set the location for my story and I show how I’m winning for a long time, which begs the questions, “How long?” or “How did it end?”

Paragraph 4: I don’t answer the questions immediately, but cut to something else, the bit about my hat. It helps the reader visualize the scene and as you saw later on, is an important element in the story.

Paragraph 5: Back to the game, and I describe the slight action of moving my cue ball to the right. This is a subtle clue to people who play pool. I like to put in clues that most people won’t get, because for those who do, it makes the story all the more enjoyable. When one is breaking and trying to make the eight ball on the break (which wins the game immediately), they move the ball off of center and aim for the second ball.

Paragraph 6: Back to the action, real time, I talk to my friends as I’m about to break and say something that seems pretty innocuous, but later is revealed to have been prophetic. Then the action of the game continues. I added some description of the sound, because I like to address multiple senses. In hindsight, I probably should have described the smoke filled room, or the smell of beer, but I missed the boat on the sense of smell.

Paragraph 7: I show the reader how I behaved and in such a way as to be a little bit vague. That is how the people watching felt, because they didn’t know what was about to happen, and I want this to be the same for the reader.

Paragraph 8: The grand finale. The hero wins. I hope it is satisfying for the reader and that they felt like they were there among my friends, cheering as the evil frat boys got crushed. Of course, the writer never knows if the ending will find its mark, but that is what I’m trying to accomplish.

Paragraph 9: I make my point about how I was in the moment and wanted it to make a good story. This is how story tellers think.

Paragraph 10 & 11: I bring it back to the first paragraph to make my point about how one needs to pay attention to the stories they are listening too and I encourage everyone to try.

This is how I crafted my story. It is how I think.  I hope this added reply wasn’t overkill, but I figured at the very least, I’d be able to save it and use for my own blog.  :-)  (Which I obviously did)

9 comments
RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd like.author.displayName 1 Like

Another excellent post- both the story and your breakdown.  One of the strongest teaching strategies is a "think aloud" or "read aloud" where the teacher pauses and clearly articulates their thought process to model these bits of best practice for their students. It was wonderful to see you do this here. It really isn't an easy thing to do but makes the learning much more valuable. Cheers! 

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

 @RebeccaTodd Since I've never taken a writing course, I don't really know how people teach writing, so I'm pleased you liked the post. It is hard for me to imagine how other people write stories, but I imagine the methods are all over the map.

 

   It would be interesting, for me, to hear the writing thoughts of others. Maybe this will spark a post elsewhere in the blog-o-sphere?

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd like.author.displayName 1 Like

 @ExtremelyAvg That would be great! I am fascinated by the creative process. I watched an incredible BBC special on music where they stuck Sting in a fMRI machine and were able to tell him what he daydreams of while writing.  Freaked him out and he actually cut off the analysis because he was afraid it would taint his process. Artists. 

 

While process varies from person to person, there are certain elements of writing that everyone should be aware of, such as voice. I have my English degree and my Education as well, so literacy instruction is a fascinating subject to me. 

 

Now my wheels are spinning... I would love to see you all write on various comprehension strategies too... Most people do not realize how well my Education degree primed me to sell- Education is communication- every time we communicate it is with the intent of sharing information, of teaching. Hmmm...

rdopping
rdopping like.author.displayName 1 Like

Very clever guy. Great synopsis. I see that you are a seasoned veteran (like I had any doubt). As I read through the second part it really helped me understand the structure. The sense of smell is an interesting approach. I wonder whether the story really suffered without that reference? Not for me.

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

 @rdopping I don't know if it would have added much or not, but I like to remember our friend le nez.