Joseph Waumbaugh once said, “You can teach everything about writing except how to tell a good story. Either you know how or you don’t.” I think he’s right. I have a friend who told me he was going fishing on Wednesday. On Thursday I asked him if he caught anything and sat back waiting for the fish story.
“I got up Wednesday morning and felt really tired. I don’t know why, because I went to bed early.” he said. “I took the dog for her morning walk down by the park and when I got back my wife fixed me bacon and eggs for breakfast. A little bit later John came over and wanted me to help him. So I went over to his place and helped him load some lumber in the back of his truck. I should have worn gloves because I got a sliver in my little finger. Once I got back home and dug the sliver out of my finger, it was almost noon, so I went to MacDonald’s and had a Quarter-pounder with cheese, fries and a large Diet Coke for lunch. At MacDonald’s I talked to a guy who said he caught a few catfish a couple days ago down at the river. I went down to the bait shop to get some bait, and when I came out it was raining, so I decided not to go fishing.”
There wasn’t even a story, and it took him fifteen minutes to tell it!
He’s not the only one. I ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen since high school. So I asked, “What have you been doing since graduation?” And he said, “After graduation I went home and we had the reception, Sloppy Joes with three kinds of salads, chips and baked beans. The next morning I slept in because I didn’t have any school…” I think he would have went on day by day for the twenty years since I’d seen him if I hadn’t stopped him. There’s an old saying about storytelling, “Begin at the beginning.” Don’t do that. Begin where it is interesting or at least important.
Almost as bad are the people who want to include every detail about everything. If you ask them how the movie Noah was, they’ll say. “We had to stand in line for twenty minutes to get into the theater. Then I got popcorn without butter because I’m on a diet and that way I could get some nachos and a box of Jujy Fruits.” They will tell you every detail about the movie, every line they can remember and even the closing credits. If they can remember, they will tell you the name of the movie’s best boy and key gripper, although people in the movie industry don’t even know what they do. All you want is a simple thumbs up or thumbs down and they go on for hours. Don’t do that!
I have friends who need a jungle guide when they tell a story or they get lost and never find their way out of the wilderness.
My friend: A funny thing happened today at work.
Me: Really. Tell me about it.
My friend: There was this woman who came into office. She had a mole on her right cheek. It was sort of like that mole Beth has on her upper lip that she won’t get removed. She had the one on her forehead removed, but she won’t have the one on her lip removed. I don’t know why. I think she thinks it’s like a beauty mark and makes her look more attractive, but it’s too big for that. Sometimes if you glance at it out of the corner of your eye it looks like a bug is trying to crawl up her nose. Did I tell you, last Wednesday when I was driving home from work, this big June bug started flying around in my car? It freaked me out. I stopped right there on Main Street, got out and opened all the doors until it flew out.
Me: So there was this woman at the counter.
My friend: Right. She wanted to sell this car. It was a ’60 Ford Fairlane 500 like my uncle Fred had when I was little. Except it was green and his was yellow. He used to take us over to Forest City in it. Of course my brother would always get to sit in the front seat while the rest of us would be crammed together in the back. Sometimes we’d play I Spy. Remember that TV show I Spy with Bill Cosby and Robert Culp? I used to love that show, but Dad didn’t. I could only watch it when Dad wasn’t around or if he fell asleep on the sofa. Then I’d change the channel, but if he woke up he’d make me change it to anything but I Spy or I Love Lucy. I loved Lucy. It was one of my favorite…”
Me: So, this funny thing happen at work yesterday?
My friend: Really? Tell me about it.
It’s like they need a GPS to find their way. Something where a voice every five minutes or so says, “Make a U-turn at the next intersection and proceed back to the story.”
The reason this story telling stuff has come to me is I am currently reading a book called Audrey’s Love by Gerri Bowen. It is a time travel romance novel. I just finished a Stephen King time travel novel, and I thought I’d stay with the genre. I am also coming to a part in the novel I’m working on where I need some romance, and it has been a couple of years since I’ve written anything with romance in it. I’m old and I thought reading a romance novel would be a good refresher course. (I toyed with the idea of doing independent research, but my wife nixed that idea. She just doesn’t understand the trials and tribulations of a writer.)
The King novel was written entirely from the point of view of the time traveler, while Audrey’s Love is written from the point of view of the time traveler as well as from the characters in the past. It is a very effective story telling. It allows the author to give out vast amounts of information without having to be boring or long-winded. It also allows the reader to see the same situation from two completely different perspectives. So far it is a very well-written book that has kept my interest where a normal romance novel would not have. It’s simply good story telling…even if nobody has bacon and eggs for breakfast or goes fishing.