Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Storytellers

     Boss Lady was telling us a story this morning. I would tell you what it was about, but that isn't important right now. What's important is that about a half hour later I walked through the other half of our office on my way to the copier and she was telling the same story to a new audience. But this time, it was slightly different than the time I heard it. It was a little more emotive, a little more intense. I just smiled and wandered by and let the rapt audience listen as she soldiered on towards the exciting conclusion. As the door closed behind me I came to a realization: a good storyteller 's stories tend to get better and better each time they tell them.
     It's true. In that the storyteller is kind of like a high school kid giving a speech in forensics. With each competition that they enter, with each giving of a speech, it gets better and better (hopefully) and it should come into stride right about the time nationals roll around. And the same with a good storyteller. You can see it with Boss Lady. The story she was telling the ladies in the other half of the office was more in-depth and suspenseful and animated than the story I got only a half hour before. The story I got was probably more animated and refined than the one her daughter heard the night before. And so it goes. When she tells someone else tomorrow it will be even better. Because it's refined. That's the key word. By the third or fourth time a storyteller knows where to add the pregnant pause, has all the little extra details down pat, and has the chronological order straightened out. They may even have discovered a way to manipulate the facts and details to make it even more fantastic. That's the mark of a good storyteller.
     See, it is not the stories they tell that make a storyteller good. It's the way they tell them. And the way they tell them evolves over time into a polished finished product. As you remember, Gone With the Wind once told me that I could write here about cutting a carrot and everyone would be entertained by it. And I did it. And it wasn't entertaining at all. Because I tried too hard; and because I didn't refine it. You've just got to do it. Had I just sat down with an idea and let flow, then sat down an hour later and let flow again with the same story, and then sat down four hours later after a short nap and let flow a third time with it, it would have been epic. But I didn't, because I don't have that kind of time. I have places to go and people to see. So it came out in one shot, pained and awkward like a teenager. It didn't have a chance to evolve, to simmer and let the juices work in. That's the bottom line.
     So tell on, Boss Lady. And keep telling your story. I guarantee that it will get better with each retelling. Because whether or not you know it you've stumbled onto the thing that makes a storyteller a truly great storyteller. Telling their story.

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