Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Stir Up the Imagination

Memories of what happens in a person’s imagination can be every bit as real as the memories of real life events. This is one of the advantages telling has over showing. Here, I don’t use these terms in the sense of show, don’t just tell, but I use them to distinguish between two types of storytelling. Some stories are told by actors on a stage or screen. They show us the story. Some stories are told through nothing but words. A speaker stands in front of a crowd or a novelist puts words on paper and tells us the story.

In this sense, the initial memories are of the experience of seeing the story unfold in showing. We have memories of going to a movie with friends and seeing the story on a large screen. We are drawn into the story and we jump at the right moments and cry at the right moments and laugh at the right moments, but there is still a barrier. We are outsiders, observing the story unfold before us.

When the storyteller tells us the story, we don’t have the images or the actors in front of us to show us what is happening. We listen to his words and the images form in our mind. We read the novelist’s words on paper and the images form in our mind. The words he uses are soon forgotten, but we remember those images, perhaps even better than the images we see in a movie. The story unfolds in our imagination, so there is no barrier between the listener and the story. We are no longer watching the story through a window, but we are in the room with the characters.

Both forms of storytelling have their place, but those who tell a story have a greater opportunity to stir up thoughts in the imagination and inspire people. A well told story, that causes the listener to visualize the story in his mind, will stay with him much longer than one in which he only remembers what he saw.