Reflections Of A Writer

Storytelling—How It Is The Base Of Existence

From gathering around the campfire telling folk-tales to binge-watching Netflix, we’ve come a long way telling stories.

To some, storytelling is just another medium to pass time. But to writers and bookworms, it is the very base of existence. It keeps us sane, provides meaning to life, and makes life worth living. How did I arrive at that conclusion? Read on to find out. 

The very reason I write is so that I might not sleepwalk through my entire life. -Zadie Smith

When I was eight, I brought a big rock up to my room from the garden. I don’t know why I was so amazed by this rock because it was just like any other rock. It was grey and dirty and there was moss on the bottom. I crawled under the bed and stared at it. Eventually, my friends found out about it and began to tease me. To escape that embarrassment, I made up a story. 

“You don’t understand. There’s an entire alien race inside this rock. They look like people, but they’re as small as ants and they fell from the moon.” 

Obviously, they didn’t believe me, but that didn’t matter. It mattered more that I believed in this made-up story. It mattered more that I wasn’t just some weird kid with a plain old rock. I became a storyteller, someone who could see a story in an inanimate rock that others couldn’t. 

There is no friend as loyal as a book. -Ernest Hemingway

In my childhood, I did a lot of reading. From Enid Blyton to Roald Dahl and from Agatha Christie to R.L. Stine, I devoured almost every book I got my hands on. My dad, a writer himself, in his crusade to get me to read, would take me to the local bookstore and buy me books every summer. One summer, he bought me Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. That purchase shaped the person that I am today. 

It’s a cliche to say that one “inhales” books, but that’s exactly how it felt like when I started reading Oliver Twist. I was lost in Oliver’s world, although it wasn’t a pleasant sight always, I was happy to be on this journey with him. Oliver taught me a lot of things, but most of all, he taught me to never give up in the face of adversity. Get up every time you fall and keep going until you reach your destination. That book today sits on my bookshelf bearing the scars and bruises of my life. And when I look back at my life experiences today, there is no other lesson I took more seriously.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you. -Maya Angelou

I started seriously writing fiction after I was 18, while I was in my last year of college coping with a back injury. My first stories were irreverent and surreal tales and their main goal was to shock. This came from my steady diet of Stephen King, Shirley Jackson and Haruki Murakami. My stories were terrible, and not just first-draft terrible; they were these-must-never-see-the-light-of-day terrible. It took me some time to realize why. 

These stories were not me. They were stories written by someone who I wished I was, but could never be. When I learned this, I retreated to my rock under the bed and to the unending misfortune of Oliver, the protagonist of Oliver Twist. I looked inward and reflected on my experiences. I stared back unflinchingly at my demons, and in their eyes, I found a wealth of stories that were just waiting to be told. I have been writing and purging these untold stories ever since. 

I think the best stories always end up being about the people rather than the event, which is to say character-driven. -Stephen King

I don’t just listen to my own voice. I listen to the voices of people around me as well. I listen to those who are close to me and to those who I struggle to understand. Through them, I get to see myself more clearly. I see how my relationships and interactions with them shaped me, all from the safe distance of fiction.

While it’s fun to read and write fiction that doesn’t go too deep into the nature of people, it’s always more satisfying when the fiction is character-driven. It feeds our curiosity for the people all around us, and it opens us up to the idea that there are worldviews that are different from ours. In other words, character-driven fiction teaches empathy, and that has always been the goal of fiction. 

You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built in the human plan. We come with it. -Margaret Atwood

We will tell stories as long as we live because they are the basic building blocks of our everyday existence. I can tell you the story of how I got up this morning, took a shower, ate breakfast, and sat down to write this article. I’m sure you can also tell me a story of your morning. Later, we can tell each other the story of how we crawled back in bed and of the dreams we had. No matter how insignificant we feel throughout our lifetimes, we will have novels to tell at our deathbeds. 

Storytelling fills our existence and it puts reason to it. Without it, we wouldn’t be human at all. So go ahead and write that short story, or have that conversation, or open that book you’ve been planning to read. Live your life to the fullest and make every moment count. For, all those moments might one day culminate to form an interesting story. A story that may perhaps inspire another storyteller thousands of years from now to write one.