I used to work in an office with a master storyteller. Irish, from another era (though younger than me) and graced with the unique skill of letting loose the perfect spoken yarn.
He could string together the most eclectic mix of characters, verbs, f & c words that I’ve ever heard. He was full of new forms of expression; new to me and even more so to the office full of middle-class engineers.
I’m smiling as I think back. I know art is subjective but listening to him speak was a whole new form.
He’d tell stories of fights with gypsies, horse-trading and being Ireland’s only certified explosives expert. The tales were fun, adventurous and often had a takeaway lesson buried deep beneath the sparkling eyes and expletive rhythm.
I put my hands up; I can’t compete with those stories, but here I am, talking about him, so the story continues in another form.
Ireland is full of these natural-born storytellers. I also had a writing tutor who was Irish and full of useful advice on the darker elements of my stories. I miss that.
My head is full of other people’s story. That’s the benefit of being a master story hunter; you can reach back into the cellar when you need a smile or some motivation. When things feel impossible, you can simply open the door and take something out to fill the hunger. The story hunter’s cupboard is never bare.
You can tell a fellow story hunter by the way their eyes widen as it unfolds. They ask questions; they engage with the tale. The bounty for a story hunter is rich.
If you don’t know the value of a good story, you won’t learn it here but if you do, if you’re looking to enrich your life and open your eyes to the interconnectivity of fiction, non-fiction, your life and constructed universes then read on.
“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth — penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words.”
Becoming a master story hunter is easy, and once you open that valve, you start to automatically extract tales from the world around you to inform your own journey, especially in times of uncertainty. Because stories change lives; they motivate us to change, they open worlds in our imagination that otherwise remained shut, they nourish our soul.
Finding stories in the everyday world is a form of alchemy where you can transform an event to a journey, a mistake to a new possibility, a boring blog to a discovery. Where do you start?
The following tools are in the essential story hunter’s pack. They’re all easy to develop skills with the highest return on investment there is.
There’s a difference between listening and really listening. Are you hearing words spoken or thinking about your dinner?
Our digital world has thrown open the mike to anyone, which is great while we’re busy speaking about ourselves have we lost the ability to listen genuinely.
Practice each day — you could ask a friend how their day went and listen. You could listen to a podcast while sitting still and actually devouring it. While your stuck inside ask your other half, or a friend how their morning went and listen.
A good story needs a character to invest in, and without the ability to empathise, you won’t be able to recognise that character or see their journey in terms of story.
Try some strategic empathy muscle stretching. You could try with a friend each day, try with someone on tv and then the biggest accomplishment will be empathising with someone you don’t like
I’m good at this with friends, not excellent at empathising with sworn enemies but I’m trying.
If I were truly dedicated to this cause, there are many politicians I could practice on at the moment, but hey, I’m not that short of story stock.
I love this tool. It’s in everybody, and once you let it free, your outlook will be changed forever. You can also accidentally lock it away with neglect.
Let your imagination get the better of you regularly.
Dream. Take a story you know and dwell on it. Think about what the characters are doing now that the story is over. I get lost in story worlds and find them hard to climb out of, but it’s always time well spent.
Curiosity will drive you to ask the right kinds of questions to track down a story. Edward Albee used the analogy of the weasel under the cocktail cabin when giving his character situations a darker reality than the one they wanted to present.
A non-story hunter will just wrinkle their nose up at the thought of a rodent in the house. A story hunter will look under the cocktail cabinet and who knows what they might find.
To be a story hunter, you should be open-minded and seek stories in the interactions you have with others. Right now, those of us who know how to use social media and digital tools are more connected than ever.
New zoom meetings are filling my diary more than real meetings did last months. To share, to laugh, to problem solve together is a form of living.
What we start at our pc now, we can continue in the real world later on as long as we don’t lose our story hunting nose.
Ultimately you want to create and share your own stories, but in between your own, you could be sharpening your story hunting skills for an enriched existence.
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