I think we, as humans, are hardwired to try to understand things by giving them a narrative. We want to work out the story behind what we see. It probably helped us in our early survival.
“Hmmmm,” says the cave man, “There’s a dead Mammoth and big Saber-toothed tiger tracks going this way.” (pause for cave brain activity to create narrative of tiger vs mammoth) “I think I’ll head the other way.”
Or, it could play out this way…
(I imagine a little Hercule Poirot caveman in our ancestors’ brains that makes up the stories at the scene of the crime. I have absolutely no scientific basis for this. I just like the image.)
“But you see (said in a Belgian caveman voice) the paw prints going off are uneven indicating that the tiger had a bad limp, probably from the entanglement with the mammoth. And here we see a mammoth print with two saber tooths lying on the ground, indicating that the mammoth kicked the tiger and dislodged his teeth before the mammoth’s passing. Therefore I surmise that if we walk this way we will find a tiger that has died of his injuries and between that and the mammoth we will have BBQ meat for a month.”
Cave man grunts at storytelling Hercule in his brain and follows the tiger tracks.
See, our brain likes stories. We are comfortable with stories. It’s the way we make sense of the world. In a way, storytelling has helped us survive as well as pass on what we learn to those we leave behind.
In present ( not obvious big toothy predator ) times though, I think we often use the little Poirot in our brains to be creative and make up our own stories. But what is ‘story’?
Well, as you would expect, I Googled it and came up with various definitions…
2. A colloquial American expression meaning ‘soap opera’
3. Place names of several towns and cities in the Midwestern US
Then came the ones I was most interested in…
1. The recounting of a sequence of events (ie around the cave campfire, “Then the Tiger pounced on the Mammoth and it stumbled to the ground.”)
2. An indication of someone’s background (ie “So, what’s your story?”)
3. A lie (ie “So, that’s your story hunh?)
4. A Narrative
I think that we actually use all these forms of story. (Unless you don’t watch soap operas, live in a bungalow and have never been to Iowa of course.) But aside from that, all of these definitions are connected to the stories that we tell, the stories that we read and the stories that we write.
Our own ‘story’ influences the stories that we are exposed to through others. Our background is hugely influential in the stories that we will eventually tell. We can’t really be isolated from our story, whether that is the ‘lie’, the ‘background’ or the ‘narrative’ of our lives.
While we are trying to let the little Poirot in our brains work out the intricacies of ‘the story’ in whatever eavesdropped conversation or object we’ve spied, we often ignore the influence of how our back story effects our perception of events.
One person might approach a scene where he sees a person sitting on the ground rubbing their head, with a leather wallet lying on the ground near them and come up with a narrative that the person fell and bumped their head and dropped their wallet. Another person with a different ‘story’ might assume that the person was mugged but the robber dropped the wallet in their escape. Our cave Hercule Poirot would assume the person was knocked over by a passing mammoth and ask if he could have a bite of the wallet.
It’s all based on what story we are bringing to the table.
So why attempt to separate your ‘story’ from your story. In the words of the immortal Frozen, “Let it go.”
Why not embrace the Iowa visiting, skyscraper dwelling, soap opera watching, anecdote embellishing, ups and downs of life experiencing story that is you and use it in your writing.
And next time someone asks you, “So, what’s your story?” - You can tell them.
Any way you like.