“Stories are central to life,” says writer Roger Rosenblatt. Proof comes from the many ways we use stories, from the foundations of religion to the way politicians build support for their positions. Rosenblatt describes legal cases this way: “…the prosecutor tells one story and the defense tells another, and the jury decides which story it prefers.” (This makes me want to have a great storyteller — perhaps Mark Twain — defending me, despite the risk of endless possible digressions.)
Not only do we thrive on stories, we want them to be complete. When we hear fragments we fill in the blanks. Even a few visual cues will lead us to fantasize about what we’re seeing.
In an earlier blog, I made light of a failed home burglary attempt in which police found four-inch, high-heeled shoes suspended from a tree and a bush, suggesting the burglar was a female who was not wearing the best footwear for breaking and entering. As my friend — the owner of the home — told the story about the incident, she added that a neighbor had seen a black car in her driveway. “Maybe she [the burglar] was doing this because a pimp was forcing her to,” she said, putting together the clues of the shoes and the black car to create a new, more complete and compelling story than the one we started with.
After that, I began paying attention to how much I and others “fill in the blanks” to turn everyday story elements into tales with more dramatic potential. A few days ago I was drinking tea in a Starbucks when I saw a young woman and two older women sitting together, each trying to work at their laptops, which could barely fit on their small table. Next to the young woman was a bouquet of peonies wrapped as if they had come straight from someone’s garden. All it took was fresh-cut flowers, people of disparate ages and three laptop computers. Within seconds I had turned them into a story involving a mother, daughter, and wedding planner.
With one exception, I love hearing and telling stories. You can tell me about your kids, grandkids, pets, vacations, hobbies, traumas, sorrows and joys and I will listen attentively. Just don’t tell me what you’re going to do for me if elected in November.