Janet Bolin on Storytelling
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jun 07 2011
Storytelling is an art that probably predates campfires, but why do some people become chroniclers of the truth, while others (and this includes me) . . . um . . . embroider the truth to make a good story, or at least a story that we like better?
I have a theory. The tendency to tell stories starts in childhood.
Take me. I ran up to a friend and tried, “I saw elves under the forsythia bush this morning.” This was not, of course, true, but it seemed like it could be. Would she believe me?
Her eyes opened wide. She breathed, “What were the elves like?”
Her willingness to fall for my blatant lie (notice I’m blaming her, not myself) propelled me toward a life of being less than truthful. I weaved outfits for the elves, built them tiny mushroom-shaped houses in magical forests. I gave them families, pets, gardens, and most important of all—missions they had to carry out.
And my friend always went along with me, asking, “What happened next?”
I happily created dragons, giants, sea turtles, elf-devouring plants, and/or flying furniture that, together, would make it nearly impossible for my poor beleaguered elves to accomplish their goals.
I started believing that the tales I spun were about real worlds, which meant that I wasn’t quite telling falsehoods.
My friend, now my best friend, listened and asked questions for days, weeks, months. I was lucky (depending on how you view the word “lucky”). She listened for years. She played minor parts in our elf reenactments while I took on all the major characters. I draped her in the brown dress-ups, and I donned the pretty (with dress-ups, “pretty” tends to be relative) green outfits.
I created whole worlds and at least one pint-sized person begged for more. What astonishing power!
After a while, I discovered that I couldn’t stop telling stories.
You believe me, right?
My best friend grew up to be normal (though perhaps a bit more skeptical than most), with a normal career. I grew up to become . . . oh, wait. Writers don’t exactly grow up, do we?
What about you? When you were a child, did you make up stories and games for your friends? What do you think compels people to lie for a living . . . er, sorry . . . what do you think compels people to write fiction?