I once met a woman who had been lucky enough to be invited to a storytelling evening in Melbourne. She explained that it was a private event, people hand picked for a communal dinner, with each person given time to tell a story.
I was just getting started with hosting storytelling nights, and worried about people telling stories that were boring or too long.
So I asked her ‘What were the stories like, were they good?’
‘Mostly they were wonderful, but I’d like to ban travel stories. Travel stories go on and on and on from one seemingly amazing event to the next, and everyone thinks their travel stories are amazing…. but they’re not.’
I kind of understood what she meant and immediately wondered what dull travel stories I had told.
But I didn’t really understand until one night, at a storytelling event in New South Wales, two people told travel stories. They were good tellers, and they were good stories in that most of the elements of a good story - a problem, rising tension and a climax - were present.
What was missing was any meaning.
There was no new, or even old, take on what it means to be a human being, no understandingattached to the events other than ‘Gosh isn’t travelling wild and risky sometimes’.
The crucial ingredient of reflection was absent.
There was no internal journey more than: stress we might miss the boat, relief we won’t; ‘Wow, here we are’ followed by ‘Wow, now we’re not’.
These stories could have become great stories if there had been something of more significance explored, some reflection on time perhaps, or stress, or the nature of travelling and risk, or our role in creating the situation. The storyteller might have reflected that love held them together, or that tension highlighted their differences. They might have noticed the metaphors reflecting other aspects of their life. These and countless other possible insights are what make a story, and life, meaningful and not just an action movie.
Travel stories make great vehicles for stories because there is colour and movement, tension and risk, there is a literal journey, but a story must have a both external and internal journeying, external and internal change. The danger and seduction of a dramatic external event is that we forget we also need an internal journey.
Stories prepared for and delivered at a storytelling night are a type of performance and they need to contribute some meaning making to the world, they need to show us behind the tellers eyes, and into how they see life. We can tell other stories any time, and we do, to anyone and everyone.
But the beauty and the responsibility of a time set aside for us to come together to share stories, is that we bring this element, this dimension of reflection that we don’t ordinarily give time to. Our story has a point, a message for the audience and for us.
And if when thinking about events, the teller finds that they offers no insights on life, then I say, save it for a casual conversation, and find something more meaningful for a storytelling night.