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How to Tell a Story

Learn how to tell a story because stories matter

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…

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Snow White’s Run into the Woods Mirrors What We’re Going Through

The woods may be scary

She couldn’t believe what had happened. The hunter had taken her out into the forest and raised his knife as her back was turned. Only the shadow on the rock told her how close he was to her. When she turned, the light glinted off the cold steel. She raised her arms and inhaled sharply. The hunter dropped the knife and then dropped to his knees. His hands covered his face as he cried. Through the sobs, she could hear him explain to her that her mother wanted her dead, but he couldn’t do it. Instead, he left her frightened and alone with one word: Run!

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Two Times Friends Saved My Life

person getting his blood drawn

When I finally made the minimum weight to be able to give blood. I signed up. When the day came, I went down, gave blood, and went back to my college dorm. I was dead tired. The blood donation took almost everything out of me.

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Stay the F—K at Home (Go the F—k to Sleep parody)

Stay the F--k at Home

The malls are closed; the stores are shuttered.
There’s no place for you to roam.
Disneyland is empty and quiet.
Please stay the fuck at home.

The movie theaters are dark.
Movie companies aren’t releasing any more.
You can watch all the movies on the Internet,
and stay the fuck indoors.

You need to get some sunlight, and the backyard’s just too small?
You can go on a little trip. Let me be your guide:
Around your fence and down the middle
Or stay the fuck inside.

You need to get some groceries?
Get it through your thick dome,
You’ve got enough food and toilet paper. Stop lying.
Don’t go outside; stay the fuck at home.

You need to get some exercise?
You never cared before.
Put on a yoga video,
And stay the fuck indoors.

You’re not scared of a virus?
There’s no need to run and hide?
If not for you, then for your family;
Stay the fuck inside.

You’re bored and lonely and tired?
Just follow the instructions of this poem.
Read books, use Facetime, take a nap,
But for real: stay the fuck at home.

You’ve been cooped up for 24 hours,
And you just can’t take it anymore?
You’ve played video games for three days straight
Jesus Christ, what the fuck? Stay indoors.

You decided to go out and hang with friends
So what if old people will have died?
Make the right choice for your grandparents now,
And stay the fuck inside.

There’s nothing new out there.
Everything’s shut from St. Petersburg to Nome.
Some wonderful places to drive to,
You know where you can fucking go? No, stay home.

This room is all you can remember.
You’ve never been out you swore.
That’s okay. You’ve got this.
Don’t give up and stay the fuck indoors.

The nation is counting on you.
In fact, this is worldwide.
Screw your courage to the sticking post,
And stay the fuck inside.

There’s no reason to leave the house.
In the future you can say with pride
Others went out to meet friends
But I stayed the fuck inside.

If you need more things to do while you’re at home, read, aerobicize, and movies.

Now, I just need to figure out how to get Samuel L. Jackson or Jennifer Garner to read this.

Thanks to Adam Mansbach, who wrote “Go the F—k to Sleep” (affiliate links). Hopefully, he’s coming up with a better version of this.

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Being Human: Identity, Compassion, Creativity and Problem Solving, and Storytelling

Curious girl

Many people mistakenly believe that what makes us human is an opposable thumb. While that may be part of what separates us from the animals, it doesn’t actually make us human. Cut off a person’s thumb and he or she is still a person. So, what is it that makes us human? It’s a set of qualities that brings out our humanity. These qualities include our sense of identity, our compassion for one another, our ability to solve problems and our ability to learn from history and stories.

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Rat King at Otago Museum Is the Stuff of Nightmares

Rat king at Otago Museum

At the Otago Museum, they have a rat king, and it’s probably not what you think it is. The truth is more terrifying and disgusting than you might believe. Rats as a species are said to be intelligent. Science uses them to solve mazes and replicate human tissues. While the reality of being a king in the Middle Ages may be romanticized, royalty is still thought to be the haven of luxury and opulence. In the animal kingdom, a “king” is something huge and magnificent. The lion is the king of the jungle. King penguins are the second largest penguins; they stand tall and regal in their Antarctic kingdoms. A king cobra is dangerously beautiful as it unfolds its hood and sways its lithe form. A rat king is something else.

What Is a Rat King?

In one of the most disturbing displays at the Otago museum, there is a rat king preserved in a bottle of, what I assume to be, formaldehyde. Eight black rats attached at the tail fell from the rafters of shipping company shed. They were discovered and killed. The tails show signs of broken vertebrae, signifying that the rats had tried to free themselves from the entanglement. These eight rats were tied together by the horse hair of their own nest, and they lived that way for an unspecified amount of time.

Why Is It Terrifying?

I just keep imagining two scenarios. The first is “what if the eight rats had combined their intelligence and started working together?” They could meld their particular strengths together and create a superior rat being – a true rat king. The second is “what would it have been like to be one of those rats?” The panic sets in, you can’t think, you’re squeaking, the rats around you are squeaking. Everyone is running in a different direction. You strain, the bones in your tail audibly crack; the pain shoots through your back and into your brain. All of the sudden, you’re falling and a giant black shape pounds hard against your comrades as their movements cease until it’s your turn. Neither of those things appeal to me.

After they were killed, the rat king was preserved and sent to the museum. Apparently, rat kings are seen as a bad omen in Germany. They portend the plague, which makes sense because the fleas of rats are responsible for the black plague. When the rats die, the fleas find human hosts and transfer the disease.