Success factors of Storytelling (Part 4): Let’s look at a story

Before we proceed further, let’s explore a story integrating the “why”, “what” and “how” elements. This is a continuation from the previous three posts. If you have not read them, please access them in the online links below:

Success Factors of Storytelling (Part 1): Start with the “WHY”

Success Factors of Storytelling (Part 2): Exploring the “WHAT”

Success Factors of Storytelling (Part 3): Exploring the “HOW”

Let’s look at a story with the topic of “tolerance”:

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“What do you think you should do when someone scolds you?”

“I will scold him back.”

“Haha! Will there be an end to this then?”

“Hm….”

“What if you keep quiet?”

“He will keep scolding me.”

“No. He will stop.”

There are many lessons that Uncle Johnson taught me about life but the most memorable lessons are those of tolerance. Why do I find this lesson to be the most memorable? Because my understanding and practice of tolerance has enabled me to be successful in life, widening my social circle and advancing my career.

Uncle Johnson doesn’t teach. He shows me the lessons through real-life examples. He doesn’t shout back when shouted by others. He cleans up a water spill from a kettle after carelessly dropping it without any form of lamenting. He almost always smiles in front of hostile or aggressive parties and never raise his voice necessarily  during times when I think that he should be angry. I have learnt a great deal through Uncle Johnson’s daily dealings with others.

“Tolerance is a virtue”, Uncle Johnson used to tell me. “With tolerance, one can weather any types of storm in life. There are many people who feel that retaliation is the antidote to insults when tolerance is the prescription.”

When I was reprimanded by teachers in school, Uncle Johnson would advice me to simmer down and asked me what was the lesson that I could learn from this. When I told Uncle Johnson that there was no lesson to be learnt, he would keep quiet and soon after, told me that my anger and denial of the truth had kept me from recognising the lessons hidden within. He would give me a week to think things through and strange enough, I would almost always get the lesson by the deadline, of which he would request that I write down these learnt lessons in a journal.

Initially, I did not know that Uncle Johnson was managing my emotions. I just had the feeling that he was teaching me about lessons, lessons which I had to write in my journal. But then again, I guess I was justified in not knowing the truth since I was only twelve then.

It was only many years later, when I had lost contact with Uncle Johnson after I had left for further studies, that I realised this when I returned to my old home and found my long-lost journal under a stack of clothes in the basement of my house. Flipping through the last few pages of my journal, I came across a few paragraphs of text on the last few pages that I have not seen before:

Dear Kenny,

You are almost done in writing on this book, so I will like to give you a last advice to serve as a closure to all that you have learnt.

 You might think that you are learning lessons of life from me but in actuality, I am teaching you about tolerance. This is the only lesson that I am teaching you. Whatever you have written on this book is all about tolerance. 

How is that so?

Life’s lessons have tolerance at its core. 

This is all you need to learn in your life.

Love,

Uncle Johnson 

Brushing the dust off the dried pages of the journal, I cried.

I cried because I missed the lessons I have learnt under the tutelage of Uncle Johnson.

I cried because I have not known and acknowledged Uncle Johnson’s years of effort and dedication in taking care of me.

But most importantly, I cried because I missed Uncle Johnson.

Suddenly, there was a few loud knocks on the front door.

“Kenny! Are you in there?”

I recognised Uncle Johnson’s voice instantly, despite years of separation.

I climbed the stairs out of the basement in exasperation, sprinted towards the front door, grabbed the door knob, twisted it around and opened the door.

Bright sunlight streamed in and I squinted my eyes to refocus them.

And there, standing outside the door was Uncle Johnson, who haven’t aged one bit.

He gave me a big smile.

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This story is written in a first-person perspective.

Why did I write this story? 

Well, I want to describe the close relations between a child and an old man where the latter serves as a mentor and coach to the former – and how the old can guide and teach the young.

What do I want readers to take away from this story?

I want to focus and emphasise on the importance of tolerance as the essential quality which lies at the core of life’s successes. And I like readers to learn and practice tolerance in real life.

How would I want my story to reach out to readers?

I have deployed the use of dialogues and content which require inner introspection through a narrative structure.

In my next post, we will discuss the importance of “WHERE” and “WHEN” in story-writing.

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Personal Recount Writing #1: Analysis

This article is an analysis of the personal recount writing in my previous post (“A Daring Venture”). You can either view the previous post directly below or you can click here.

It will be great if you are able to read the short story first before reading further in order to have a better understand of how literary devices work in narrative writing.

For this post, I will like to highlight three primary elements that make this story stands out on its own:

Human nature: Non-fiction writing can allow technicalities to take precedence and overrides the need to emphasise human values but a great fictional or personal recount story cannot overlook the important and influential role that human nature plays in a narrative.

Values such as respect, love, betrayal, disappointment, happiness, sadness and the multitude of human emotions are great literary elements that relate and bind people together through stories. Think  Shakespeare.  Narratives are meant to soothe the heart more than stimulate the mind. Leave non-fiction writing for the latter.

Intersection of time: If you have read the story “A Daring Venture“, you would have realised that the story moves among the past, present and future. In addition, the movement is not linear but sporadic. This has the effect of attracting the readers into the core of the story through the movement of time. However, the narrative must move in such a way that the past, present and future merge into one seamless flow.  This cannot be taught literally but can be learnt through consistent and continuous writing exercises.

The trade off is that much effort has to be put in to ensure that the right tenses are used and this usually is challenging to achieve under tight time constraints.    Should students choose to adopt this form of writing, intensive practices and guidance are required prior to mastery of this writing style. However, once this skill is mastered, it will enable students to maintain consistency of tenses for all if not most forms of writing.

Psychological elements: These elements relates closely to human nature but what sets them apart is the fact that while human nature talks about qualities and values, psychological elements may take the form of literary advice (as in the case for this story where snippets of page extracts are used as guiding devices for the author), a motif  (such as the use of a doll whose photos are taken in various countries with it sitting on a bench, signifying change or mobility),  the deep, inner thoughts of the writer, and many more.

Psychological elements are wider in scope and hence easier to use and elaborate than those espoused by human nature, which tends to be more intangible and requires the use of scenarios and scenes to bring out their essence.

As we explore more writings in the near future, I will provide more literary tools for you to explore and use in your writings.

Stay tuned.

Personal Recount Writing #1

Out of the various writing genres, personal recount writing (that is, writing that uses the first-person perspective using the pronoun “I”) is – more often than not – the more interesting writing style. While the story may be contained or even confined within the psyche and understanding of the main protagonist who is the writer, the personal narrative adds a personal touch to the story seldom seen in other writing styles.

Below is a piece of writing which I will like to share with all of you. I hope that you enjoy this.  In my next article, I will provide some insights on the ways that this writing works in terms of literary writing devices and the style that the writing is structured.

Topic:

A Daring Venture

I am an introvert by nature.

I like solitude and I love staying in my room reading books or listening to Jazz or New Age music. I get to have a world of my own without the intrusion of others. I relish the moments of insights as I agree with the thoughts of an author or meditate under the tune of soft music. Yes, this is my world – and I am loving it.

However, there is a hefty price that I pay.

My social circle is small, as I do not socialise often. My friends do not know me well, as I did not put in the effort to know them well.  I do not get invited to parties often because I almost always turn down every invites that I receive. I do not know how to communicate as I only communicate with myself in my head.

And then, one day, everything changed.

Or rather, you can say that a book that I have read changed everything.

I can still recall the title of the book vividly despite all these years.  The title is “How to have a chance encounter that will change your life”. When I first set my eyes on the title in the library prior to borrowing it, I thought the title was plain, simple and almost self-explanatory. I did not know what attracted me to the book but somehow, I was mesmerised by it.  I did not know what effects the content of the book would have on me but I loved it anyway. Psychology is never my forte but still, the title held my interest.

Perhaps this is preordained. I do not know.

I have a strange feeling about this book. As mentioned, I am not new to books. I have read books of almost every topic available but most merely increase my knowledge.

This title is different. It mesmerised me like never before.

I placed the book on the table and flipped to the first page:

“Observation skills are not only to be learnt but to be practised. You must act on what you have learnt. Then the skills you learn will change your life – forever. “

The sentence stared back at me and I felt a sense of anticipation.

Change my life? How is that possible?

I began to read the first paragraph.

Perception wraps reality. We are trapped by our mental conceptions until we free ourselves from them by observing reality and understanding the formation of perceptions through them. And being observant is the bridge joining the two…..

From that day on, I began to practise my observation skills.  And I began to notice things I have never noted before – the type of clothes that others wear, the colour of the tie that matches a shirt, the different type of greeting gestures that others display, the various types of smiles that either reveal or hide emotions. And through these, I began to map out the various perceptions I have of them, as well as having a good gauge of the perceptions held by them. In other words, I began to understand the worlds of others and how my world relates to theirs. Over time, I began to connect with them psychologically, but not in a interpersonal kind of way, if you know what I mean.

Then one day, it happened.

I was sitting on a seat in a train when I noticed that a lady dressed in a yellow dress was seated across from me. She is in her early twenties. Her yellow dress was prominent but that was not what attracted my attention.  Rather,  it’s the ruby necklace she wore that was interesting. I have seen that necklace before, at a jewellery store. It was from Paris, France. I always have an interest in stones, and ruby is among them.

“Observe aspects of others carefully. What stands out is the obvious. But it’s the similarity that connects.” 

I am beginning to understand this sentence.

The lady suddenly noticed me looking at her and she returned the gaze, smiling while doing so. It was awkward to have somebody looking at me with interest as that has not happened to me for quite a while.

But the distance between us was far. There are many passengers standing and moving along in the train and our eye contact is constantly being cut intermittently by the passing bodies. I noticed that she has the tendency to look away and then back at me again, as if we are caught in a game of hide-and-seek.  It was not long before I did the same. The passing crowd between us becomes our hiding posts and for a while, we indulged in a match of peekaboo.

Instant and continuous connection is fleeting. Intermittent communication with silences and absence in-between is key to sustaining a resilient relationship. We need to give each other space to rejuvenate and to recharge. Observe this in your interactions with others. 

True to its words, our switching attention from the moving crowd to ourselves are – in a strange way – sustaining our continued interest in each other. But still, none of us make a move to go forward and start a conversation.

A connection is not deliberate. A connection just happens. There are people whom we are meant to meet in this life but we have to notice them through our astute observation if we are to really meet them. Placing your eyes on the pages of your book won’t do. Closing your eyes and listening to the music blasting out of your earphones is worse. Open your eyes and look around. See who is attracted to you and why you are sustaining their attention. That is the point.

As the train neared my stop, I stood up sadly and headed for the exit door to her right. How many times have I brushed shoulders with someone whom I have a connection with but never have the opportunity to connect? It’s uncountable. I sighed with disappointment with my eyes glazed over and looking at my own reflection in the glass panel in front of me.  And then the image of the lady appeared behind my left shoulder, looking at me and smiling.

I smiled back.

No matter how great is the possibility of an encounter, there will come a point where you have to initiate contact. Shyness will impede you at this stage. Hesitation will destroy your courage.  Fear will draw you back.  Only confidence and a desire to know someone new will push you forward to take that initiative to start that life-changing conversation.”

“Hi!” I greeted her.

“”Hi!” She greeted back.

“I like that necklace of yours. I know where you have bought it.”

“Is that so? Haha! So, where did I buy it?”

“Well, is there a prize if I got it right?”

Both of us burst out laughing.

And the rest is history.

Humour is the prescription for nervousness. A right dose of it at the right moment can work miracles for any new social interactions. The trick is to know what to say, how to say, how much to say and when to say it.

Today, Jenny is my best friend and we still go out often. I am not sure if I can call these dates but for now, I know that if I had not put in the effort to read the book, I would never have found a soul mate.

When you have known somebody through a chance encounter on your own initiative, you know you have the  power to widen your social circles and create change in your life.

And when you have done it once, you know – deeply in your heart – that you can always do it again.”