The Ten Premises of Storytelling
We are all storytellers. We live in a sea of stories—gossip, news articles, anecdotes, parables, jokes, fairy tales, and, of course, books. Having published many books and hoping to write a few more, I have been studying what role storytelling plays in our lives. Also, teaching writing to others has pushed me to try to understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it by telling stories.
What I’ve found has been exciting, astonishing, and even a bit scary. Storytelling feeds a hunger that we all have. It is as essential to us as rain.
I’ve come to see that the shape of a story is a fractal, that it iterates down to the level of the sentence. Fractals are natural shapes that follow a pattern—a shoreline is a fractal, so is a fern frond and a cloud.
John Briggs, a science writer, defines them this way: “Fractal geometry describes the tracks and marks left by the passage of dynamical activity.” Life is dynamical activity and it is chaotic. In writing about it, in creating a story out of life, we form a pattern—the pattern of a story.
What’s exciting about this to me is that it means that the shape of a story is natural and intrinsic to all of us. Story is part of us.
And , to take that a step further, I think that just as a tree spits out leaves, we must tell stories. They take on a natural shape that we all know and recognize. And that we all need.
I have come up with the ten premises of storytelling:
- We are all storytellers.Try to go a day without hearing a story or telling a story. Then pay attention to all the stories you hear all day long.
- Storytelling is innate in all of us.We were born knowing the shape of a story—the rising of tension, the peak, and then the denoument. We climb a mountain in telling a story.
- Storytelling is good for us. Stories feed us, they calm us, they excited us, they teach us good ways of living.
- Sometimes, while writing a story, magic happens.When you are in the midst of telling a story, it can begin to tell itself. It can feel as if you are merely the conveyor of the story.
- Sometimes, while writing a story, science happens. As we follow the shape of a fractal in our stories they become more powerful, their true pattern emerges.
- Sometimes writing a story is drudgery.Just because stories are so essential to us, doesn’t mean they are easy. They can be a slog. I find the middle section of stories to be the hardest for me.
- The most important way to get to be a good writer is to practice all the time.Yes, telling stories is something we all do naturally. But if you want to be good at it, you must work at it.
- The habit of writing will lead to flow.Just as an athlete can get into the zone, a writer can sometimes experience this feeling, too. If you tell stories for a long time it will often come easily.
- Letting your mind wander will allow eureka moments to happen. Story telling can be hard work. When you run into a problem and are fretting over it, often its best to let go and see what happens. Take a nap, go for a walk, let your mind wander. Try not to control the story and see what comes.
- We all need stories.They hold our hands through troubled times, they make us laugh, they make us cry. We live many lives by telling, hearing, and reading stories.
I’ve published over thirty books and I still learn so much from writing every new one. As I grow older, and I hope wiser, I continue to want to write that “one more story” as I see the world in a bigger way.
Mary Logue’s new historical mystery, The Streel, comes out this spring. The story of a young Irish immigrant girl, it is set in Deadwood, South Dakota and has already received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. A New York Times-bestselling author Logue has published over thirty books, including mystery novels, poetry, non-fiction books, and books for children. She has been an editor at Graywolf Press, Simon & Schuster and The Creative Company and has taught writing at Hamline University.