The stories we tell

Extraordinary stories

Whenever we tell a story to a friend or family member it usually is about events beyond the ordinary: extra-ordinary. Events that are worth picking out of otherwise pretty routinary days.

We do not tell every single thing we do during a day because, first, it would be impossible to narrate: to narrate a day exactly the way we live it would take at least a full day (first I took a step, then another one, then one more). In second place, it would be quite boring as well. We all know what it is like to ride the bus during an hour and a half and it would not be very exciting to listen to somebody telling us about it.

This way we do not tell our whole day of work but we do tell about a meeting in which our boss let us know about the chance for a promotion. We do not narrate the whole time we waited in line in the bank but we do tell that two men wearing masks entered the bank with intentions or robbing it. Finally, we do not tell how we saw several pretty looking women at the college campus but we tell about how we talked with one in particular we met that day.

The stories we tell

There is not a long way from the stories we tell our family or friends to the stories we tell to entertain people through short stories, short novels or novels.

The kinds of stories we have built are the kind of stories that are told in commercial literature: suspense, action, thriller, crime fiction, science fiction, romance, and fantasy. Not so contemplative stories but extraordinary stories of people fighting against adversity in order to get what they want and in which their well-being is at stake.

In order to create them it is a good idea to know their parts and start experimenting with different ideas. New elements will be added then and the stories will become more complex, but it is only a start.

We can practice the basic exercise of building a character, which wants something but faces difficulty to get it. He fights against adversity and eventually accomplishes his purpose.

Let us see this again in a crude example that I make up on the air in which the only important thing is to take a look at these elements:

“Peter always wanted to work as a cab driver. After five years of hard work and requesting a credit, he bought himself a small new taxi cab that would let him make his dream come true. Before he took his car out of his garage on the first day he would start working, a man got in his way before he jumped into the car in a neighborhood around the city.

  • Peter Smith – he said with a strong voice, standing beside him.

Peter lost his breath and turned around.

  • Who are you? – Asked Pedro, aghast in front of the menacing presence of the man – How do you know my name?
  • We know everything that goes on around here. You must know that in order to drive a taxi cab you have to pay 4 grand to The Boss.
  • What? What are you talking about? I have just bought it”.

And so on.


What would happen if we mixed the three stories of the examples mentioned before?

What if the cop in the bank is looking for a promotion? If the rival that tries to sabotage him is with the police surrounding the bank complaining to his boss? What if his rival tells the police he is an accomplice of the robbers and makes up some evidence? What if the cop found inside the same bank a woman he had not seen in ten years, the love of his life? What if the woman’s husband is one of the bank robbers who threatened her to help him in the robbery?

How to become a better story-teller

Considering difficulties per areas

Ask the student to make a list of all utilitarian items he can related to the areas of work, study, transport, recreation, relaxation, feeding, agriculture, etc. Let him cover those items or problems more promising that he came across with.

Expressing guesses

State a question problem and request students to express as many guesses as possible. For example, why has a manufacturer extended paid holidays for his employees from one to two weeks?

Considering alternatives

Present a common object to the class, such as the lid of a plastic container, and ask them to provide alternative functions that it may serve.

Guessing purposes

Have students guess the purpose of some object from a minimum set of verbal or graphic hints. For example, if the object is a mug, draw in the board an incomplete handle, adding more parts, such as the rest of the handle, until the students guess the correct item

Sharpening the vision

Let the student point out the elements that make up an object. For example, what elements constitute a wall calendar? Wait for the students to point out elements such as: numbers, months, horizontal, vertical, advertisements, sheets, paper texture, hanging device, drawings, poems, footnotes, descriptions, characters names, color, folds, moon phases, important dates, typography, etc. Special attention should be paid to the different attributes in terms of enhancements or innovations

Relating the unconnected

Have the student make connections between ideas or items seemingly unconnected. The connections will serve as starting point to develop ideas to set aside for later, combined function units, and other relationships that suggest a continuous improvement.

Suggesting enhancements

Have the students suggest (orally or graphically) enhancements for a daily-used object.

Making the house bigger

Encourage the students to be recipient to other people’s ideas.  Have them research times when “extravagant” ideas have been very successful.