I thought that it might be useful to give an account of Saturday’s Story Workshop for those who couldn’t be there. I am always loth to repeat workshops, especially when the attendees are regulars on our Saturday mornings, so this is a short account of what will probably not happen again in this form.
I explained to those present that the recent work on voice might usefully be continued and channelled into an exploration of colouration in the speaking of particular words and phrases. Later, nearer the end of the workshop I also invoked the idea of musicality. Visual arts and music have some significant cousinship with story-telling, so this was nothing particularly new but we rarely, perhaps, use tonality as a way of enhancing our story-telling.
I began by inviting those present to give a short two-minute account of a travel experience, not necessarily abroad, or even far from home. My own offering was of my elation at reaching the top of the Montserrat Peak near Barcelona. There were tales of trains missed, and caught, ways lost, purses found, lessons learned. Later Manuela, one of our new group-members, would describe these accounts as like crumpled pieces of paper and indeed, as her metaphor suggests, we took each of them and spread them out to look at their structure and nature. In relating an experience spontaneously we often proceed without a sense of structure producing crumpled accounts, and yet, as I pointed out and we saw, each account had within it that sense of consequence and conclusion which is written into our genes as everybody is by nature a storyteller.
I asked each person, in examining their story, to isolate the two or three key moments – what we later called “fateful” moments – around which the necessity of the story-experience hung. In some cases identifying these moments brought out new aspects of the experience, things omitted in the previous telling. I then asked the teller to dwell for a while on the feelings wrapped up in that moment and write down words to describe five feelings experienced then. I pointed out that our daily vocabulary for describing feelings is quite limited but that we have many more nuanced words for feelings which we can bring into use, so in unpicking what were in every case complexes of feeling we came to words like “frustrated” and “rueful”.
The next stage of the workshop was to fix the telling around these moments, just a sentence or two. Up to now the tellings had been potentially malleable and variable – they might change each time they were undertaken, – but now I asked for a set of words which would remain set, and could be re-used. Within each set of focal sentences I asked the workshop participants to isolate one word (or at most two) which were the very core of what was being told.
And so to colouration. Could we say that one word with the colouration of the feelings we had written down for the experience? I suggested that people work in pairs and try out many versions of the word, including some that were highly inappropriate to the moment. This was a moment of playing. It’s always important not to feel too constrained by a process, particularly one so structured as was this workshop. It was also good to move the focus away from the centre of the circle, and stimulate more individual interactivity.
We shared those words, individual by individual, and after each word had been spoken we reflected on the feelings we could find in the musicality and colouration which had been infused in it. So often we could hear the feelings intended. Finally I invited each person to add a couple of the words on either side of the “coloured” word to give a sense of its context. I pointed out that if the story (as we now might call it) was to hinge upon the delivery of that word coloured that way then all the words around it would be affected by its colouration. We could develop a kind of halo around the word, not by pausing dramatically before and after it but by knowing that it was crucial and , almost subconsciously, letting it, when spoken, reach into us for those original feelings which are then communicated to our listeners.
At the end of the workshop I commented that each of us brings our usual voice and manner of telling to our shared stories but by working on the coloration and musicality of individual components in the story “text”, and without resorting to over-dramatic and bombastic effects, we can raise our game and deploy more of our potential voice to good effect. The response at the end from participants suggested that this had struck a chord (!) with them, each in a different way. It had been a very focused workshop and I was glad that it might have a beneficial effect on stories, not always from life, yet to be told.