The Storytelling Gift

Ann H Gabhart Ann's Posts, One Writer's Journal

The storytelling gift is innate: one has it or one doesn’t. But style is at least partly a learned thing: one refines it by looking and listening and reading and practice – by work.  – Donna Tartt

I was once called a storyteller by a person I respected. I think it was one of the nicest things anybody has ever told me to my face. I want to be a storyteller. I have always wanted to be a storyteller. I like stories whether I’m telling them or I’m listening to them or reading them. In the photo above is my husband and his aunt who has many stories to tell. Not the kind I tell. Her stories are about things she’s done, times she’s lived through, people she’s known. Her father, my husband’s grandfather, was an entertaining storyteller. His stories had a basis in fact, but I’m thinking he could embellish with the best of them to make his tales entertaining. Aunt Annie doesn’t embellish. She shares from what she’s seen in her ninety plus years. My mother was good at doing that too before age related dementia robbed her memory. If only I’d known the right questions to ask sooner. 

The right questions – that’s what I’m trying to find the answers to now as I research for my work in progress. Where am I going to take my characters? What was life like in that time? What would they have done, thought, seen? So much to find out. So much to imagine. I’ve already stumbled upon one major “bridge out” sign. One thing I planned for my character to do wasn’t something a person her age was allowed to do. Should I bend the rules and not be totally true to the history of the time? After all, I am writing fiction. But I like to make the historical background of my books as accurate as I can as I look back in time. It was a discouraging discovery that my planned happenings probably couldn’t have happened. So now I’m going to have to find a detour, a new way to cross my storytelling river. 

In this picture is one of the next generation of storytellers in the family. Several of my grandchildren show a love of stories. This one’s stories spring from the imagination unlike her great aunt’s telling of the truth she’s lived. Perhaps we all have stories to tell if we can only get someone to listen. Or to read. 

I’m listening and reading and hearing the stories of the past. Now to shape those stories into a past and present for my characters. That is the challenge of storytelling. Fiction with truth in the background.

Thanks for reading. I hope you have a storytelling couch at your house and you can ask the right questions to bring the past of your family to life and to help your young ones dream their future.