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Monday, December 12, 2011

Storytellers

“Some critics will write 'Maya Angelou is a natural writer' - which is right after being a natural heart surgeon. “—Maya Angelou

During a recent interview, I was asked a question: “Do you think anyone can become a writer?”

I do think anyone can become a writer if they want to bad enough. I think some people are better equipped than others at the start of their journey due to family influences and school and other factors. But I have no doubt anyone can become a writer with enough work.

But, I don’t think everyone is a natural storyteller. I think some people are born with a special filter through which they view the world. Possibly these kids are the observers, the ones who hang back and watch the action for awhile before joining in. Maybe they are the quiet kids, busy absorbing what’s going on around them rather than being the center of attention. Maybe they are the kids who tell stories about what they saw on Mulberry Street (Dr. Seuss). I’m not sure what young storytellers look like.

What I do know is when I share some of the ways I view the world, there are people who don’t get it, and there are people who do. The ones who do are almost invariable storytellers. I can stand in the express checkout line at Walmart and make up a story about each person in line in front of me based on what I see in their cart, who they’re with, and what they look like. I’m probably way off target most of the time, but the point is in the story I create, not in the reality of that person’s life. The more my story resembles a stereotype, the less likely it is my story comes anywhere near truth. But understanding stereotypes is just as useful as knowing how to break stereotypes, and knowing how inaccurate they are on an individual basis.

The point is the story. My kids and I like to play a game we call “The Random Game.” When they were younger, it was a way to pass the time while we waiting in line. Now that they’re older and shopping on their own, it’s not unlikely that they’ll send me a text with a picture of their items on the checkstand. We assess points on a whim (rather like Drew Carey on “Whose Line”). When we’re in the car, we make up categories – like “you’re at a church potluck and there are three items left untouched on the table afterward. What are those three items?”

Or “you stop at a thrift store and there is a clearance table at the front with 5 items on it. What are those items and what are their prices?”

Or my favorite – "you buy a used 1988 Caprice Classic. In the glovebox are 3 items. What are they?” The key isn’t in obvious solutions. It’s with the specifics that your score will increase. If you have an owner’s manual for that make, model and year, it’s not so random. But if, in your 1988 Caprice Classic, you find an owner’s manual for a 1972 VW Bug, that’s pretty random. Add to that something slightly obvious, like 3 packets of Taco Bell hot sauce, and something uber-specific like a Barbie doll leg, and you have a winner.

What do YOU think makes a storyteller?

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