Story shapes

Shafak / Vonnegut

I think we are all storytellers to a certain degree. I’m most interested not in fiction, but nonfiction through personal narratives. I found it intriguing that Shafak, in talking about why she writes fiction and fights against identity politics, was sharing her personal narrative (nonfiction that followed themes and conventions of fiction).

As Shafak says in her Ted Talk –  her writing was “less an autobiographical manifestation than a transcendental journey into other lives, other possibilities.” I love that spring dew potential of exploring the others. She talks later about how composition classes have it all wrong, that “writing what you know” perhaps isn’t the best starting point for fledgling writers.

“Yet as much as I love stories, recently, I’ve also begun to think that they lose their magic if and when a story is seen as more than a story.”

For me, that intersection between the autobiographical and others’ stories is worth exploring. I think the shapes of our personal stories, especially for those who might be sharing a traumatic period of their lives, tends to follow the “bad to worse” shape that Vonnegut proposed. What if that circle didn’t include just us, but other stories?

“Writers are entitled to their political opinions, and there are good political novels out there, but the language of fiction is not the language of daily politics.”

I see digital narratives as taking a lot of the shapes Vonnegut proposed, although in a nonlinear, condensed, or expanded way. I think those exaggerations (from tweets to multiyear blogs) are what make the concept of digital storytelling so compelling, but also maybe less palatable.

My storytellers of late have been less people and more brands. Of the people, I find Allie Brosh (Hyperbole and a Half) to be a strong storytelling of her personal narrative, in part because she adds a layer of humor to a dark subject. I also like stories told with no words – Kat Wilson’s Habitats photography series comes to mind.

Closer to home, my favorite storytellers have been the choreographers in my life. Whether working through struggles such as losing a mother to breast cancer or a lifelong relationship gone off the rails, the dances I have been a part of speak to me in ways that traditional words just can’t. There is a connection there, to be sure, not just between me and who I feel are my kindred spirits but also between mind and body.

Stories are great if they captivate and provoke a response (emotional, cathartic, educational). A storyteller should make you feel, even if that feeling is quite nebulous and undefined.

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