Friday, 6 March 2015

Of Old MacGregor & Storytelling

A tourist is backpacking through the highlands of Scotland. He stops at a pub to get a drink and in there, he finds a bartender and an old man  nursing a beer. The tourist orders a pint, and they sit in silence for a while. Suddenly the old man turns to him and goes: "You see this bar? I built this bar with my bare hands from the finest wood in the county - gave it more love and care than  my own child. But do they call me MacGregor the bar builder? No!" 

Pointing out the window, he says:  "You see that stone wall out there? I built that stone wall with my bare hands - found every stone, placed them just right through the rain and the cold. But do they call me MacGregor the stone wall builder? No!"  Points out the window. "You see that pier on the lake out there? I built that pier with my bare hands. Drove the pilings against the tide of the sand, plank by plank. But do they call me MacGregor the pier builder? No! But you fu*k one goat ... "

Clues to a great story
This  is the opening line to Andrew Stanton’s talk on TED titled, The Clues to a Great Story. In this compelling talk, the award winning producer and writer refers to writing as “joke telling - it is knowing that everything you are saying from the first sentence to your last sentence is leading  to a singular goal that deepens our understanding of ourselves and other human beings.”

A year ago, I wrote a story about a friend. The story titled, The Best Man’s Speech, was a toast to my friend  and  his beautiful bride. Although theirs was a simple story, out of all the stories that I have written to date, it has been the most widely read and shared. Within two days of publishing it, it had been read over 300 times, received a  number of comments and shared a number of times. 

As any writer  will tell you, despite any auxiliary reasons that they may profess, the dream of any writer is to be read widely.  As such, with this one, I had hit a home run. If this were a movie, it would have been a blockbuster - most certainly  my Avatar . If it were an album it would definitely have been Thriller, my Gangnam Style on You Tube.  

Now, don't get me wrong. I have no illusions about the reach of  my blog. A few hundred views is nothing to write home about. However, considered within the wider context of the views of the other stories penned down, it gave an inkling into the intricacies of blogging and by extension, writing and storytelling.  Most of the notes I have previously written average about 60 views.

So what  was different with this story? What made it worth telling? There are a lot of  stories out there such as this plan on the internet telling how a man caught his cheating wife. There are others like this one, the Out of Eden Walk , an odyssey that  chronicles a man’s seven year walk around the world. Each story from the outlook, may appear to be as different from the next, as day and night. Nonetheless, both these stories qualify to be called good stories. 

A story of life
Based on Andrew’s talk and drawing from my own experience, it was in another TED talk that I found the elusive answer to my question, affirming what I had been thinking all along. In his talk titled How I started Writing Again,  Sting poses,  “if you look at your work, could it be argued that your best work wasn't about you at all - that it was about somebody else? Did your best work occur when you sidestepped your own ego and you stopped telling your story, but told someone else's story?" 

A good story, I realized is a lot like life itself. It is not about an individual. Rather, it is about other people in the context of a community.  A good story just like life itself, begins with a  promise. As in life, a good story is defined by  both  heroes and villains. As it unfolds, taking twists and unexpected turns, it builds anticipation, before leading to a final and definite end. In a sense, storytelling, I realized, is the story of life itself.

What is your story? How has storytelling helped you to understand yourself and the environment around you?

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