The Story You Need To Tell

At Wild Words, we view your words as a wild animal, warm-blooded and dynamic.

To extend the metaphor, each type, or genre of storytelling can be viewed as an individual species of wild creature. Each has unique characteristics. For example, the rhythm and movement of poems, despite their differences, will have something in common, as will the rhythm and movement of all novels, despite their differences. Some species will be bigger and louder than others, some will move faster, and others slower.

But of course, individual pieces of work, your individual project- will be unique animal within the subset of a species. If a poem or novel has certain characteristics, your particular novel will jump off the page in an absolutely unique way.

Becoming a storyteller in-the-wild is first about looking at the overall tendencies of wild words in general, and then at the similarities and differences between species of wild words. After that it’s about relating that to the individual, the living, breathing creature that is the specific story that you need to tell.

Sometimes I open workshops by asking participants ‘what’s the story that you need to tell?’ Invariably, the answers include the cup half-empty ones such as ‘the story of the damage done to me by my father/mother/ siblings/children’ or, the cup half-full ones such as‘ how I survived/succeeded in my life…’

These are all valid answers to give, and valid stories to tell. And I do believe that we each have a story we need to tell. However, the story that we need to tell will be different on different days, or even at different hours, and it will change form.

We need to tell stories in order to survive and to thrive. Those stories will find their way out, one way or another. They can take many guises. Our organism and unconscious speak in symbols, so our story may come to us in symbolic form. This we call ‘fiction’. That system of signs will be representative of an emotional, biological, psychic journey that we need to do. It might also manifest as what we’d describe as ‘life writing’: biography or autobiography.

Whatever form it takes, the story will be, at the root, about that need to discharge energy from the nervous system, and to rehearse problem solving. We may well not consciously know the ‘true’ story we need to tell, and it is often better not to chase it down if we don’t. A wild animal chased, runs away to hide, after all.

There is no one unchanging story. Different stories may embody the same ‘truth’ or authenticity’ at different times in our lives. There is nothing to be despondent about in this fact. We’ll recognise our story when we find it, despite the fancy dress that it wears. Again, it comes back to developing trust in the process. Then, when our story appears, even if it surprises us by its shape or size, we will know it, instinctively. We will know it despite the fact that, often, it’s not the same story that the rational mind was planning to tell on our behalf.

Your life is unique- the way you negotiate what life throws at you, and the way you will write about it, is unique. On this course, that uniqueness will be valued and nurtured. Your ability to trust that individuality when you tell stories, is the key to your success.

The Role of Passion In Writing

Storytelling, certainly when approached as a habit or profession, is not always easy. It necessitates that we encounter and overcome fears. It needs us to learn to be a good support to ourselves, and to stand steady in the face of the questioning of others. It requires that we are receptive and proactive, patient and persevering.

What will keep us going when all else fails, is passion for our subject. The first thing to bear in mind as you think about which story idea to work with is: write about something that you really want to write about. That you love. That rocks your boat and swings you to the stars. Don’t let your rational mind talk you into writing about something more sensible, marketable, money-spinning, safe, or more like what your mother wants to read.  Those aren’t the stories that work best, or get a standing ovation from an audience. Nor are they the novels that sell.

In the words of Ray Bradbury…

Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.

And from the glorious mouth of Maya Angelou…

You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.

In my experience storytellers don’t usually have a shortage of ideas. We do, however, often have trouble choosing which idea to start writing, and then to follow through to completion. Finishing what we started is what makes us feel good about ourselves. Holding the finished book, transcript or article in our hands is health-giving. The confidence we gain from having completed an idea is what encourages us to tell more stories, and continue honing our skills until we become the storyteller that we dream of being. We create a virtuous circle.

It’s important, when choosing the idea to work with, not to become fearful, and therefore rigid around the options. It can help to realise that the success of a story is much more determined by how you write it, than what the initial idea was. The power of a story is in how you imbue it with emotion. It’s about how you bring it to life using sensory impressions. It’s also about how you grip the reader at the outset, and enable them to walk in the shoes of the character through the story. It’s about tension and about pace. Don’t bother waiting for the idea of the century. You only need to choose a story that is ‘good enough’, and then work your magic on it.

To see the Writing Prompt that accompanies this article, you'll need to sign up on the Wild Words website homepage to receive the Monthly Newsletter, or join the Wild Words

Read more about the Mentoring Scheme for 2017-18 here.