Our Mutual Friends

We make distinctions in story-telling, between what comes from our own experience and what we make up, between stories we’ve found and stories we’ve constructed, but in many cases the distinctions get blurred. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the characters we offer to our audiences. I think of this when listening to two members of our group when they tell some of their most characteristic stories.

It came to me the other day when Liz was telling us all about Maureen and her “millions”, a fine fantasy of a storyabout a failed compact with a devilish figure to become very rich, rich beyond the bounds of possibility, through a laborious repetition of a word (I’m not giving away the details – you may hear the story some day). Liz introduces Maureen as a friend and sketches in their shared background, but eventually we are in a fantastic situation which only a fictional character could experience. Even to the end though Maureen is shared with us as one of Liz’s intimates, someone so close to her that she can imagine (or recall) this crucial incident in her life. It’s all in manner and tone of voice, and something else quite elusive which is, or can be, part of the storyteller’s technique. It’s hard to describe but it conveys the sense that Liz does not just, as in most storytelling, know about Maureen, she knows her – as much as she knows us who are gathered to listen to her tell – and so Maureen becomes hyper-real, absolutely amongst us, courtesy of Liz, maybe, but almost of her own free will.

I reflected that David, who has also offered us many tales at sharings and on Story-nights, draws on this same dimension of identification with his characters. They are ordinary folk, from the streets and houses of our towns and cities, not from fairyland or the wide realms of fantasy. They don’t do anything particularly heroic, just interact and learn as they do so. And David shares them with us as acquaintances, perhaps from some perspective which only a wise elder or superior gossip would have – a teacher, a priest, a doctor, a seasoned youth worker. He doesn’t offer himself in any of those roles but there is no doubt that he, like Liz, knows these people, and since he is alive and in front of us, as Liz is, these people must be equally alive, and just round the corner of that twisting path of our lives, liable at some time to appear in our actuality.

I may seem to be making a very particular point here, and I’m not saying that this quality of relating is either necessary or essential to a good story-telling. Fortunately story is as wide as the universe and susceptible to an infinite range of tellings. This is just a short acknowledgement of the closeness you can feel in the presence of shared experience, and maybe a reminder that we can only convey character as a living thing if we are invested in the characters we offer up and, most important, that we manifestly love and care for them. That then also defines our relationship with our audience. We care for them so much that we want to share our story with them.

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I write a lot in many media on many subjects

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