Have you ever stopped to think about story . . . and not what it means in literary terms like character, setting, theme, plot, climax and so forth?
We humans are wired for story. Kids, adults, it doesn’t matter, we all enjoy stories. As writers and illustrators, we know that creating stories and pictures is hard work. Our words and pictures must capture the reader. In this way, they will continue turning the pages.
Our job is to take life’s emotions, fear, worry, bravery, love, gut wrenching experiences and lesson learned, (not to mention building an imaginary place for our characters to deal with whatever we throw their way) and create a . . . story.
Today, stories are told in books, movies and online. Our techniques are modern compared to the first stories that were painted on cave walls by early man. Those pictures told a story, too. People probably gathered around a campfire and listened to a clan member tell about a great hunt, a feat of bravery . . . or perhaps some poor guy’s disastrous attempt at killing a woolly mammoth.
Through time, a people’s oral traditions, their sagas and epic poems, their legends and myths, their folktales and fairy tales, were stories that found their way from storytelling into print.
My Opa gave me my love of story. He was an amazing storyteller. He grew up along the Hudson River in Highland Falls, New York, at the turn of the last century. As a child, I remember him telling me the stories his father had told him, my favorites being The Headless Horseman and Rip Van Winkle. It wasn’t only those stories I enjoyed, though.
When my brother and I visited my Grandparents, Opa told us Timmy stories. Timmy was a character Opa had created. We took turns requesting adventures for Timmy and Opa spun the story. For me, Timmy always had a horse, but never an ordinary one. Opa made Timmy’s horse magical, white and shimmery like stardust. It had wings and Timmy rode it on many adventures. Sadly, I don’t remember my brother’s Timmy stories, other than Timmy fought space aliens and piloted a spaceship.
I’m nearing the end of my historical/fantasy novel Justus. My Monkey buds have critiqued it. I’ve revised it and revised it and read the chapters out loud to get a feel for my words. Then I had an idea.
I’ll tell my story aloud like a storyteller, like Opa!
And do you know . . . it’s hard! I stumbled over my words and had to concentrate. My character said OMG, an expression not even in the book. As I told my first chapter to my imaginary kids, I became aware of the importance of word choice and the power of descriptive words. The retelling helped me and I actually went back and changed a few things. Of course, it would have been nicer to tell my first chapter to real kids instead of imaginary ones, but hey, it was an experiment I’m glad I did.
The next time you finish a story, try retelling it as a storyteller. I think you’ll enjoy it, and be pleased, too!