Tell a Simple Story: Re-framing Truth and Reasoning in the Young Intellect
I had the pleasure of seeing a small group of storytellers after a summer camp on Friday. They were both under 12, had theatre experience (be it more scripted and less improvisational) and both were, you know...kids. Kids ramble, they move back and forth on their way to their point, and they make long-shot, hyperbolic assumptions about the world around them in order to come to the most interesting conclusion for their needs. These are not always useful traits in day-to-day life, but they can be harnessed and used to further social skills and performance skills while encouraging a child to pursue their natural inclinations for order and for truth, for base reality. But truth, as we've all seen in times of deep social, political and economic turmoil, is always secondary to the most interesting narrative; the most dramatic story.
Creating an engaging story involves understanding the pieces and playing a complex game of mental chess; character development, rising action, climax, falling action. Many things qualify as appropriate components but few things deeply involve an audience by working all together to create an image and leave an impression.
In the story pictured above, the storyteller kept a running tab of the two battling characters and their "points," gained by "winning" at various small engagements which added up to a big war: who gets the parking spot, who gets the best table, who is first to leave the restaurant. While it was silly and the quirky nature of the issues fit the child and her style perfectly, it also strangely framed familiar pettiness on the part of adults in a useless light; who cares who gets the bigger portion of the pizza? Is there not anything more satisfying or important than that at stake? And as soon as I wondered that, both characters got their points dramatically slashed when the feud in the parking lot ended and an angry passerby ran them both over with a car. As if it needed to be more poignantly highlighted that pettiness isn't worth it when the brittle nature of life means that its continuation is not guaranteed.
The other storyteller told a version of Goldilocks and the three bears, approaching us with confidence that even though we knew this story, we DID NOT know this story, and she was right. From the minute Goldilocks climbed into the Uber outside the bear's house to the final reveal of what a "zoose" actually was (spoiler alert: it's the strange striped-and-antlered child of a zebra and a moose), this story updated well-known lore, addressed some of the more glaring inaccuracies in the original (I mean, come on, they couldn't just immediately see a sleeping Goldilocks? These were one-room houses, people!) and was told without a single stammer, "um" or eye roll; if you have ever so much as come within ten feet of a pre-teen, you know that this is not a normal thing for them to be capable of doing.
This story was a brilliant example of reframing a popular myth and concept, and threw me into a whirlwind of psychological analysis against my own will: what is "truth" when you are dealing with fiction, and who is hurt by adjusting the details to better suit the narrative and engage the audience? How does this change when we are experiencing one-on-one interaction and feel wronged by the person across the table, and expound on that feeling to more deeply garner the audience's sympathy the next time we tell the tale? Is being an unreliable narrator of your own life not just a penchant for storytelling, and who is allowed to tell the story of your own life if it isn't, in fact, YOU?
This is why art is, and will continue to be, important. The entire thing took 15 minutes, but it was an impressive display of bold talent, refreshing insight, and purposefully placed reminders. Telling stories is something which will invariably happen in life, whether or not you do it on purpose; any time you defend yourself with words, or report an incident, or simply recreate a comedic moment of your day, you will tell a story. Thank you to these sweet storytellers and their talented teacher for reminding me that stories matter, theirs and mine, and that telling them confidently and with gusto is the greatest way to re-frame your mental picture and change your mindset. After all, you captain this ship that is your own experience; take it where you want it to go.