Telling a story the old-fashioned way

When I was in the hospital for surgery a number of years ago, I ended up staying overnight, and shared a room with another woman.

We got to talking. She asked me what I did (I hope I asked her back), and I told her I was writing a novel.

She asked me to tell her what it was about. I spent the next hour telling her my story, orally, in person, and with exactly the right amount of details for her to get all the twists and turns. When I reached the end, she said she would like to read it.

We had nothing else to do – neither of us was going anywhere, it was after visitor’s hours, and we were both post-surgical, probably in a little pain, and groggy from the aftereffects of anesthesia and painkillers. It was at least 8 years ago, but I have never forgotten the experience of reaching through my mind for just the right details, making sure I got in all the important plot points and twists, giving her enough about each character so she would understand why they were in the story, why they did what they did: in other words, telling her the story.

I was led on by the look on her face, and by her occasional questions: her eyes did not glaze over, she made no efforts to get away or shut me down. It continued until I told her the whole story and she understood why it came out the way it did.

We were interrupted only by routine hospital stuff.

I don’t think she was just being polite – we each had enough handy excuses that we could have stopped the exercise at any point before the end.

But I remember, after all these years, the sheer joy for me of explaining myself, telling my story to a single listener.

Curiously enough, the story hasn’t changed one whit since then: forcing myself to make everything connect and make sense together when told to one person was a touchstone to locking it in. In a way, the craft to write the story grew up around it, to satisfy the telling.

Has it ever worked that way for you?

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6 thoughts on “Telling a story the old-fashioned way

  1. Rachel6

    Twice, to one of my best friends and then to my brother’s fiancee. Except I hit a plot hole in the telling and wound up saying, “That part I’ll figure out later. But after that happens…!”

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    1. ABE Post author

      It is very good to hit the plot hole – these things have to be found somehow. Embarrassing if the book is already in the hands of a traditional publisher, but eminently fixable at early stages.

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