January 20, 2010

the opposite of story

The other evening, Tom asked me, “What is the opposite of narrative?”

Tom was recalling a radio interview with a Republican communications strategist about the 2008 Presidential election. The strategist said something like, “We don’t do that whole Obama narrative thing, we do x.” Tom could not recall the strategist's definition of x.

The question got me wondering, What is the opposite of story?

I posted this query to a group of colleagues working in applied narrative, and a wonderful conversation is taking place. One response, in particular, resonates:

“For me, it's "opinion". As opinions don't tell anything, that is to say the listener has no existence for the guy who expresses an opinion.”Stephane Dangel (in French; for an interview in English, click here)

This past Sunday evening, I grew frustrated with the Storytelling class I am currently taking. Now, it was only the second class, and the focus so far has been on finding what our teacher calls the Main Event in each story that is shared. Great things are happening in the class, and of course, strong bonds are forming between my classmates as we intimately share and “workshop” our personal stories each week. But the listener has been absent in our discussions. There’s been no discussion of exploring the emotions one may be eliciting in a listener by sharing a particular story, or if you have a desired emotion or action you would like to elicit. It is obvious that many of my classmates are sharing stories for reasons other than simply entertaining an audience.

Nor has there been discussion that the act of sharing a story is akin to giving a gift. Even if one expects nothing in return (and aren’t those the best gifts to receive?), one must think about the reactions that may be generated by the sharing of the story.

In Improv, there is a co-creation with one’s Improv partners, and with the audience. Every moment is completely unexpected and will never be replicated. Great professional storytellers know that the audience is crucial to both the delivery and intake of a story.

Perhaps my background in persuasive communication has me too focused on the intent of the person sharing the story, the listener, and how and where the sharer taps into the listener’s memories and stored experiences. I want to get better at the technical aspects of sharing a story. But for now, talking about storytelling without talking about the importance of the listener leaves me empty.

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