Sunday, May 30, 2010

Story tellers and story receivers

As writers, we are expected to be story tellers. Maybe we tell our stories to our word processors first but eventually some version of sitting around the fire and holding forth on a captivating tale emerges. The brilliance of good writers is not neccessarily inherent in the story itself. Sure, we like a good plot with twists and turns, surprises and enchanting characters BUT like in ancient days we are willing to hear the same story we've heard many times before as long as the teller (writer) imparts a style that we can respond to. Think of telling stories to children - they don't mind hearing the same one over and over again. They know what is going to happen but they will happily suspend their knowing to be surprised, frightened and delighted all over again.

Yesterday the step-dot and I went off to a different farmer's market - it is in a small town down the south-shore and we go there every once in awhile to shake things up. It isn't open in the winter like our one in Halifax and it takes a bit longer to get to but it is all worth it when we do.
We decided we'd have a chocolate croissant or pain de chocolat with a cup of coffee. We took these treats out into the sunshine for to tell you the truth - the barn where the market is held, was a trifle cold so early in the day.
Sitting on one side of picnic table we took in the outdoor flower sellers and the chit chat of people coming down the road. Then we heard him.
    "Watch where you're going - you jaboney!"
It was an elderly man shaking his walking stick at the driver of a truck that was trying to back into a very tricky spot. He looked a bit uneasy on his pegs as he approached the table where we sat.
   "Do you mind if I join you lovely young ladies?"
I gestured to the seat across and told him we'd be happy to share our table with him.He commenced to chat to us. In short order we were told a wonderful story. It had everything I desire in a tale - a strong and interesting character, a surprising turn of events, wonderful and humorous details, big historical events as the background, forces of evil and good. And best of all it was all true.
No, I'm not going to tell you the story - not yet anyway. I'll just give a tidbit - it involved joining the Merchant Marines at the age of fifteen during WWII. And being torpedoed, taken prisoner and most importantly of all - losing his pay book.
Shortly after this adventure, Sarah and I met another elderly gent. This English chap owns a nursery and brings aquatic plants and heathers to sell at the market. I'd bought a 'red fred' heather last year and proceeded to kill it. I wanted to try again! So, I got to talking to him and told him that I had a victim die in the heather beds of the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens. He loved it and started telling me all sorts of true stories about the politics of that place and various head gardeners etc...who had worked there. Struck gold!
My writerly point in all this is that we writers need to be story receivers as well as story tellers. My life as a psychotherapist is very helpful for this. During the first encounter, our raconteur said "I have no idea why I am telling you all this!" I do. It's because I know how to listen and to ask just enough questions to keep the stories coming.
How are your story listening skills?


Talli Roland said...

What the heck is a jaboney?

Sounds like an interesting man. Don't you just love when you get these stories, so unexpectedly?

Jan Morrison said...

Actually, in the interest of true disclosure he didn't say 'jaboney' but it is a word my dad always uses to describe a jackanapes, a fool, so I inserted it...
He was a vastly interesting man and yes - I love to get them.

Jan Morrison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mason Canyon said...

Sounds like a true all-day adventure. I'm afraid there are days that I'm not a real good listener and then other days I do okay. There are some wonderful storytellers out there. Looking forward to hearing more about these stories.

Thoughts in Progress

Words A Day said...

I agree. And even the most apparently mundane of stories (or tellers) can often have a stunning or unusual detail...
As a listener I need to learn not to jump in with questions to early.

Jemi Fraser said...

You had a wonderful day! It's amazing what you can hear when you just listen. I think this is a strength of mine too - I've worked with lots of troubled kids over the years and if you don't listen, you don't ever get the chance to help.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

We were given two ears, two eyes, and only one mouth for a reason!

Jan Morrison said...

Mason - it was a jewel of a day. Usually the stories do end up in something I've written but not quite how they come to me. Not stories I hear at work of course. Those aren't up for the grabbing.
Niamh - absolutely. a way of looking at things which is different from our own. For instance in Joe's story (the man at the market) the important thing was he lost his paybook! Not that the boat was torpedoed and sunk. I love that!
Jemi - that's right - the listening is first and the 'ever so casually inserted I really don't care but' questions are next with adolescents.
Diane - you got that right...

Nishant said...

I love to get them.
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