The Art of the Tale

It was a lazy summer afternoon. We were up north at our cottage and had gone for a walk along the winding barely two lane road that found its way to our cottage near the end of it. Jackson and I had fell well back of his mom and sister as he asked only the questions an inquisitive seven year-old could ask. Realizing that they had gotten so far ahead as to be completely out of sight, Jackson and I settled on a tale we would tell when we got back to the cottage. We would tell them that as we rounded the last bend, there in the middle of the road stood a big old black bear. This was something we had all long wished to see but never had and thus the bait in the story. We practiced how Jackson would tell of the event and anticipated the surprise on his mom’s face when he would spring it on her. As we entered the cottage and his mom asked where we had been, Jackson looked her in the eye and froze. “You tell the story Opa.” This had been Jackson story to tell but he just hadn’t yet embraced the art of storytelling.

There is a story within a story here and that was the story inside. Storytelling is an art as old as time. In fact without it, we wouldn’t have history. It is that storytelling throughout time that gives us the accounting of our history. Some stories are just that, a retelling of an event in a just the facts ma’am, kind of style. Other stories are told for the enjoyment of the listener, while still others, like Jackson’s, just to spin a yarn. These last two styles need to be rich in the colorful detail that makes them worth the time spent listening.

I come from a long line of artful storytellers. From my grandfather and my father, through my aunts and my uncles, I learned the history of the family and the family farm, but I also heard stories of the adventures and misadventures of the storytellers. I would often hear the same story told by two different tellers but each with their own choice of detail and sometimes, facts. The multiple telling of the same story taught me perspective. With story telling, there is an obligation to the overall facts of the event, but there is also literary freedom in the way the event was remembered and the storyteller’s style of retelling it. That is the art of storytelling.

Stories are powerful tools. As I previously mentioned, they can tell the history of an event or they can do so much more. If used properly, a story can be used to motivate through the lesson it delivers. The best motivational speakers use personal stories to relate their topic to the listener. By personalizing their message with their own experiences via stories, the speaker draws the listener in and paints a verbal image that helps them both relate to and remember the message. And of course, when properly enhanced and artfully told, the story can be pure entertainment. Most of my storytelling falls into this last bracket.

I have been accused of embellishing the facts and I will never deny that I might have, just a bit, but I believe the story should be entertaining. To that end, I reserve the right to a little additional literary freedom. Many of my favorite stories to tell have, needless to say, grown in stature over the years. I have also been accused, mostly by my wife and daughters, of making the story longer every time I tell it. I choose to blame that on my memory of the event continuing to improve with each retelling.

Throughout my adult life I have told stories. Some may have been told in my childhood, those being the ones I usually told to get out of the trouble I had so artfully gotten into. When I taught, I used them to relate life lessons to my students. As I developed my career as an investment planner, I told them to help my clients understand the financial decisions they would need to make. As a bartender I picked up the art of telling the story well and as a parent I used stories to guide my daughter’s decisions, to help them learn of their past, just as my father and grandfather did before me, and often, just to make them laugh. And they usually did.

I am now working on the next generation of stories as I go for long walks with my grandchildren. Through my stories, I hope that they will learn the histories of their parents, their grandparents, and the relatives that came before. They will hear stories of adventures and even some misadventures. They will hear stories of people and places and things. They may even hear stories they will choose to one day retell. Through them all, I will try to pass on the beauty and the art of telling the story. Even if it’s a tall tale of the bear we never saw.