Like so many people who have a desperate, unquenchable passion for the written word, from a very young age I fancied myself a storyteller. Imagine, then, how disappointing it was to realize that I am just a good writer, a good speaker, and crafting a good story is a wholly different talent.
It was a few years back, and I was watching the splendidly written show, Gilmore Girls. One of my favourite insights from the entire series came when Emily Gilmore (matriarch of the Gilmore clan) decides she wants to set up Chris (Lorelai’s, um… baby daddy) on a date.
EMILY: What about Brandi Covington? She’s a lovely girl with a wonderful sense of humor.
LORELAI: “A wonderful sense of humor”?
LORELAI: What joke has Brandi Covington ever told?
EMILY: Well, I don’t know.
LORELAI: She has a wonderful sense of humor. Tell me one of her jokes.
EMILY: I don’t know any.
LORELAI: An amusing anecdote she’s told?
EMILY: I don’t know, Lorelai.
LORELAI: A giggle-inducing pun.
LORELAI: Dirty limericks, song parody.
EMILY: Well, she has a lovely laugh.
LORELAI: Oh, so she does not have a wonderful sense of humor; she can appreciate a wonderful sense of humor.
EMILY: I guess that’s right.
It’s a good little scene from perhaps my least favourite season of the show, and it stuck in my head.
What had I learned? Appreciating funny doesn’t make you funny, just as appreciating amazing storytelling doesn’t give you the capacity to tell an amazing story. Not all great readers can be great writers too. Is that unfair?
Since then, I’ve been trying to focus on story in my writing. I don’t believe I possess the pure, raw storytelling prowess of some of those around me: my father, who is a social chameleon; my friend Emily, who shares intimate details of her life with a disarming ease and self-deprecating humour; my best friend’s husband Jon, who sells every second of a story with enthusiasm and passion; and, that little girl on the bus who – unlike her pint-sized peers – does not fill her silences with “umm” and has comedic timing far more precise than mine. These people are my inspiration and my tutors. They are special. They do naturally what so many people strive to do effectively in blogs and social media statuses; they make their lives worth talking about. It’s a phenomenal talent. Do they realize the power of their gift?
There’s something so potent about storytellers. They are a greater force than writers. They live inside the emotion and the meaning of their tales. Good storytellers can communicate something that is 100% cliché or predictable or banal, and make it worth listening to or reading.
I want that. I want to tell an amazing story and support it with grammar and flow and vocabulary and be extraordinary.