This week, a friend of mine told me he’s a lousy storyteller–but that he wants to get better. “Most people talk about their day,” he says. “So I tried it, but, I don’t know. See what you think: Yesterday, I got up. I brushed my teeth. I ate breakfast. And I got a shower, and by the time I got out of the shower I was starting to feel like I could actually get through the day. Before that, I was just too tired. And the house was quiet; I was all by myself. See? That was terrible!”

photo-5“Not necessarily,” I said. “I’m curious: tell me about the quiet. Was it like, ‘It’s spooky and unnatural to be so quiet and I’m lonely’ or was it, ‘This is awesome! The whole house to myself, I can leave my underwear on the radiator’?”

To this he replied something like, “Have you been spying on me?”

Anyway, dear readers, I daresay that his story isn’t bad. In fact, I think it was just a few lines shy of getting really good.

When I’m not sure how to tell a story, I find that the 2-year-old approach of asking “Why?” at the end of every sentence is always good for drawing the story out. (I play this game with my nephew, and I strive always to come up with an answer to his Why-Fest. Aunts can get away with that.)

What my friend does have is a lack of bad habits. His story is full of clean lines. Maybe not a lot of description or emotion, but not all stories need that.

I’d like to say there are no bad stories, but, well, there are some that I just don’t want to listen to, even as they’re told. Take, for instance, if we removed half the predicates from my friend’s story above and replaced them with phrases like, “And then, like, you know… So, like… And then like… And I was like… And then she goes, ‘Yeah,’ and I go, ‘Yeah,’ and they go, ‘Yeah…’”

Now that, in my opinion, is a bad story. True, if I were more than half listening, I could fill in all the blanks with my own fun details, but then it’s my story and not what I’m supposed to hear. But this bears further thought: Do we need to tell better stories or do we need to tell them to better listeners who will help us draw them out?

Think about it. And in the meantime, go forth into storyland with the curiosity of a 2-year-old.

My first book, Upside Down Kingdom, is available on Amazon. I’ll sign it for you.