Story Challenge

Yesterday I had to go ‘down below’ meaning I left the mountains for the city, spending all day running errands and maxing out on people overload.  While moving through the grocery store, the produce stand, the laundromat, and so on, I started paying attention to the conversations.

For example, during my mammogram, the woman doing the squashing told me about some hilarious camping stories and a couple equally hilarious stories about patients (I’m sure that I’m now new fodder for her).  While at the produce stand the young man running the register told me a story about the nectarines I’d bagged up, and then a story about a cobbler his mother makes with nectarines and blueberries.

At the dentist, the tech filled the time that my mouth was propped open, by telling her captive audience stories about all the precocious things her toddler was doing.

Every single conversation was a story.  There were no interactions that were simply facts.  Everything, every word, was connected to a tale.  As I realized this, I started an experiment.  I tried to not respond with a story.  I failed.  Think about it.  A person tells you a funny camping story, which reminds you of the time something odd happened when on the beach, and that reminds your listener of something else, and before long the two of you are deep in conversations.

Why is it that conversations are all made up of stories? How many of us can answer a question with a simple fact-only answer?  And if you can do that, how many times is that perceived as rudeness by your listener?  As a writer I’m very relieved that humans are so hungry for stories.  But I wonder at the mechanism, at why we are wired that way, why we must speak in stories, even to strangers.

I’m going to challenge myself the next time I’m in public, to try to not tell a single story.  I find myself wondering if I’ll be able to speak at all.  Oh, I have to add that for my challenge I think I will study my husband in public.  He despises meaningless conversations with strangers and discourages stories.  He wants to get into the store, get what he needs, and get home, with minimal contact.  His body language and short answers are clear signals to those experienced with working with the public that he is one not interested in talking.

And that brings me to the downside of the challenge to try not telling a single story.  I’m going to miss out on a day of rich textures, of ideas for writing, and of fascinating people.  Still though, it’s going to be interesting to see if I can manage to go through one whole day in public without telling a story.  I think I shall fail.

7 thoughts on “Story Challenge

  1. I know I would fail at that! I’ve tried to do it to keep from talking too much, but then I’m perceived as standoffish or sad, so I go into a story to prove that I’m not! 🙂 I’m interested in seeing how it goes for you.

  2. Oh, I’ve failed all ready. Like you said, we end up perceived as standoffish, and I felt like I was being rude. I tried to keep the story short, and only tell one instead of it developing into a long conversation, and ended up feeling like maybe I only failed a little.

  3. Lovely post! I’ve noticed my compulsion to respond in stories. Often the story isn’t even really related to what the other person said, which makes me wonder if I’m over-talkative and self-centered, in needing to inject my own experience into every conversation. It interests me that you present these stories as a vital part of conversation, whereas I’ve worried that I tell too many (irrelevant) stories… it makes me wonder if conversation style differs from place to place, or among populations. I hang out with a lot of people who are great listeners. They tend not to return stories with stories, but with appreciative remarks or even questions. I’m now tempted to go hang out with friends, or throw another party, just for the sake of tracking the conversation. 🙂 Thank you for the idea!

    • You have me thinking more, as usual. I assume storytelling is integral to conversations, but now I wonder if it’s me encouraging that by beginning the stories. I’m going to have to pay attention now to how the conversations begin. And as I feared, I failed at moving through the day with no stories in conversations. Since posting, I’ve also realized I think in stories, and wonder if that is common to all writers. For example, two little boys yesterday were sitting at a picnic table drinking cherry pop in bottles. As I walked by they said, ‘we’re drinking beer!’. We joked back and forth and on I went. But as I left I immediately asked myself, how two little boys come to think ‘beer’ and want to imitate it, and I immediately pictured a parent drinking beer, and ran away in my mind with all sorts of scenarios and stories. I realized I always do that, here something, see something, and away the brain flies. So maybe holding conversations that are story telling follows the same process and is a characteristic of writers. Plus, I don’t know how many times I have told a story about something that happened, had everyone laughing, and my husband sitting there with this puzzled, ‘I don’t remember it like that’ look on his face…

      • I think in stories a lot too, but they rarely seem to translate into my writing. I’ve often wondered if they should, or whether it’s okay that they don’t. I should play around with that.

        My husband also often remembers stories differently than I do. 🙂 Sometimes he’s read my blog and objected to the way I’ve described him!

  4. One thing that I’ve noticed is that the ‘thinking’ stories I come up with are usually connected in some small way to something I’m writing. Like you, the thinking plot never makes it to the written story. But in some odd way they help me move along the plot arc, like thinking these little stories gives me ideas and direction. I do this a lot when walking and call it daydreaming my story. Can’t remember the author who said he takes a fact and makes it more interesting but I love that and tell my husband that when his eyebrows go up.

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