How to Tell a Story

You’ve been sitting at home for three or more weeks now waiting for this whole coronavirus thing to blow over, and it isn’t going away. You’ve played all the video games, read all the books, binged all the videos and shows until your eyes bled. If you’re with family, you’ve descended on each other’s last nerve and are, hopefully, learning how to live together through it. If you’re by yourself, you started talking to inanimate objects, and like Alice in Wonderland (affiliate link), they’ve started talking back. The chess pieces are telling you where to go, and you’re not sure you like the implications. But before you and your loved ones/ co-habitators fall apart, it’s time to dig a little deeper into your ability to as a human being and learn how to tell a story.

There are already some amazing things being done out there. People are recreating their favorite Disney rides. They are racing marbles and putting rubber balls through elaborate contraptions. There are people singing and dancing in the streets, or near them, properly social distanced from one another. Maybe you’ve done all those things, and you’re ready for something new. However, being stuck at home with only the supplies you have may make finding something new hard to do. Fear not! You have all the tools you need to do something memorable for the next 1001 nights.

Storytime! With You!

(Editor’s note: Contains affiliate links) Stories are magical. They transport you and whoever’s listening to another world, and they are in your DNA. Since the dawn of man, people have been telling stories. 15,000-year-old cave paintings at Lascaux tell stories. Aesop had his fables. Scheherazade saved her life 1001 times through storytelling. The Decameron is about young people telling stories during the plague in the 1300s. Walt Disney built an empire through telling stories. Mr. Rogers told stories. LeVar Burton still tells stories. You have seen enough TV shows and movies, read enough books, even if they were from the children’s section of the store or library, and heard enough fairy tales to tell your own stories. More importantly, you have all the tools you need to tell a story: your imagination and your voice (unless you sold your voice to a sea witch for legs). You can add pen and paper if you want, but they aren’t necessary. You can record them, too.

I Don’t Have an Imagination

During this crisis, have you thought about the worst things that could happen? That’s your imagination working. Have you thought about what it’ll be like without work? What life will be like if we still have to social distance six months from now? What the first thing you will do when the quarantine and self-isolations are over? That all takes imagination, and they are stories that you’re telling yourself. If you think about the future at all, you have an imagination. It’s time to use that imagination for something good rather than for the bad things it’s helped you to conjure.

Don’t Have an Audience? Yes, You Do!

As long as the electricity and the Internet are still around, you have a potential audience. Record your story for YouTube or write it for your blog. Think of your nieces and nephews, your children, or other people who are dear to you and tell the story for them. Then post it and send a link. If the Internet goes out, you may need to get creative for your audience. Use stuffed animals, action figures, or photos of friends and family. Gather them around you and tell them the story. You can even tell stories to your pets.

But How Do You Tell a Story

First, you need an idea. Rod Serling says that ideas come from everywhere. You can use anything to start your story. Pick anything in your house and start with it as your story’s main character. The Brave Little Toaster is an appliance. Buzz and Woody are toys. Think back to a story your grandparents or parents told you. Retell a movie that you love.

If you need a structure, you can use the Hero’s Journey made famous by Joseph Campbell and used in “Star Wars” among other films. An oversimplification of this would be: An everyday person stuck somewhere gets dragged into something. He or she doesn’t want to be a hero. Overcomes one obstacle. Faces a larger obstacle. Overcomes that, too. The circle goes around until the final outcome. Robert Jordan’s Rand al-Thor, Mat Cauthon and Perrin Aybara start in a tiny village as boys. Bilbo and Frodo are hobbits. Luke Skywalker is on his uncle’s farm at the beginning of his tale. The Hardy Boys are capable detectives, but they aren’t taken seriously because they are teenagers.

Collaborate with Others

You don’t have to tell a story by yourself. Recruit your family members to add to the story. Find someone online to write with. Stories are better with others, sharing them will empower you even more greatly to tell better stories later.

Still need help? Try this starting point:

The teapot on the stove whistled out that the water was boiling. Steam poured from the spout and into the air with the sound. It was time to have breakfast, but no one was sure what there was to eat…