Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Art of Storytelling

We didn't hire a videographer for our wedding. It was a bad decision.

We have little interest in viewing the ceremony. Our vows were not personal, the Catholic wedding was more for family than for us, and the conservative priest gave a homily saying that the best place for me was barefoot and pregnant. The ceremony was not meaningful or memorable to us in the way that it is to some.

We should have hired a videographer for the toasts. At both our rehearsal dinner and reception, friends told stories about our friendships and our relationship. Those stories are the memories we wish we had captured.

Beach Bench - Flotsam of the Mind

The best man, my husband's childhood friend and a consummate storyteller, told the story of the night he and I first met. He had driven from D.C. with friends to watch and celebrate a national championship basketball game at Duke. In the entertaining version of the story he told at our reception, he and I first bonded at Public Safety after one of the visitors used a Duke ID.

I've heard him tell that story in a bar, and it's completely different--closer to the truth but embellished for that audience. We actually bonded at the Durham jail, bailing out someone for drunk driving. We college kids were outsiders among the others at city jail, which made for some colorful stories best reserved for a bar retelling. But the sanitized wedding version captured the spirit of the event. In our best man's capable hands, it was still a great story, perhaps even more meaningful to the handful of us in the room who knew the real facts.

A talented storyteller can choose the best parts of reality, embellish some, and discard the rest to make a good story. This is not a skill of mine. I don't deal in truthiness. I'll never be a creative writer because I can only tell the truth. In my written words, I struggle to select and heavily edit my stories. In person, I let others tell the stories because I'm no good at it.

In Johnny Cash: The Life, biographer Robert Hilburn repeatedly mentions that Johnny Cash never let the truth get in the way of a good story. That likely made Johnny Cash a tough biography subject but a great party guest. It took years for me to appreciate that a good story doesn't need to be true, even if it purports to be. I used to interrupt my husband to correct his stories with the facts. No one wants that girl at the party.

I've learned to let the storytellers tell their stories. To reserve the facts for another time. To confine my stories to writing, where I can be my own editor.

You can trust that what I write will be honest to my memory because I have little ability to do otherwise. The first draft of most of my stories typically contains extraneous details, irrelevant facts, and useless tangents. I write as I remember. My written memories begin as an annotated transcript. Only with effort and omission do they resemble stories.

When I started this blog two years and two days ago, my goal was to practice and improve my writing. I have done that. The words come more easily than they did two years ago, and the editing is heavier. But I still have so much to learn. I'm an avid reader because I love a good story. With enough practice, I hope to become a better storyteller as well as a better writer.

I never will be chosen to regale a room full of people with my tales, but with practice, maybe I can write personal stories here that people will choose to read. To those of you who have been here from the wordy, tangent-filled beginning, thank you for your patience. To those of you whose words I admire and consume, thank you for teaching me by example. To all of you, thanks for listening to my stories.

Happy belated anniversary to Flotsam of the Mind. Thanks for reading.


  1. Susie: A story is based on facts. How you creatively make those facts into a good story is what makes the story.(ex. the fort, music blog) When I read your blog you are telling me your story of your everyday life with your family etc. and making me want to read your blog daily because it is something I enjoy reading about. It lightens my day!!!!!!!!!!!!! When u put a smile on someones face and a skip in their step, you shared a story. Your blog has given me that!

  2. Happy anniversary! We are all storytellers in our own ways. I always enjoy reading yours!