BEYOND WHAT A STORY NEEDS IN ORDER TO BE,
WHAT DOES A STORY NEED IN ORDER TO BE GOOD?
For a story to be good, it needs to have a good ending.
And yet who defines that? Is it the storyteller or the story receiver?
Let’s start with the storyteller.
In her comedic presentation “Nanette’, Hannah Gadsby offers her insight in that while jokes offer only a beginning and a middle, a story completes the journey by providing an end. She suggests that approach through an artful way of timing – throwing a line to the audience and then reeling them in by creating the tension and then letting out some line, repeating the process until she introduces the comment, almost as a side thought, that she will need to quit comedy since unlike stories, it doesn’t allow her to provide an ending.
Towards the end of the show, she suggests that she is stuck in her own story, unable to leave her current paradigm until she provides an ending, which will then allow her to move on. She continues this pattern of tension and release, interspersed with other microstories, until she brings her presentation to the climax where she completes the story – her story – what she has learned from it and where she needs to take her journey from here. As Hannah shares towards the end of the show, “You learn from the part of the story you focus on’.
And what about the story receiver? What does a good ending look like to them?
Are good endings good because it creates relationship?
From Hannah’s point of view, the story is for the sender as much as the receiver – one must complete the journey to gain the full experience – to gain understanding of why that story was told.
The storyteller has the tools with which to craft the story and can choose to leave us with either a simple or complex ending. But the tools are only part of the story. In order for a story to be heard, there must exist a symbiotic relationship between the storyteller and the story receiver.
As Le Guin states, does the story create a relationship?
“In most cases of people actually talking to one another, human communication cannot be reduced to information. The message not only involves, it is, a relationship between speaker and hearer. The medium in which the message is embedded is immensely complex, infinitely more than a code: it is a language, a function of a society, a culture, in which the language, the speaker, and the hearer are all embedded.’
Hannah spoke to this concept towards the end of “Nanette’. She observed that “your story is my story’. While the specifics might be quite different, everyone can remember a time during which they may have felt bullied or discriminated against or isolated from others – living inside that tension. There is that sense of identification with the storyteller that says “oh yes, I know that that feels like’ which then invokes curiosity – so what did you do about that? How did you move through those challenges presented? What can I learn from your story?
Are good endings good because of what we learned and how we were changed?
As the story receiver, do I feel differently about the story after I’ve had a chance to digest and reflect upon what the storyteller told me? How am I transformed as a result of hearing the story?
In Exits and Entrances – the protagonist ended up at the same place where he started, but he was a different person as a result of his journey and could never go back to who he was before. We made the journey with him as he shared his innermost thoughts and made each decision to choose the door he chose only to discover he couldn’t enter his own house at the end of the story.
In Chapter 2 of King’s book, we learned about his journey in thinking about how others saw Indians – that an Indian had only to exist in our imaginations and that others can challenge that view by imagining and offering alternative futures.
In the article by Zak: – he evaluated the biology of how these stories touch us, move us to action, take us places we haven’t been
“We discovered that there are two key aspects to an effective story. First, it must capture and hold our attention. The second thing an effective story does is “transport’ us into the characters’ world.’
On the other hand, does the story change as a result of how it is heard by the story receiver? There is a play that has been offered almost daily in DC and Boston since 1987 called “Shear Madness’ which is an improv murder mystery staged in a hair salon. The ending changes based on how the audience perceives the story – they vote during intermission as to whom they believe the murderer to be and the story changes to fit that expectation. In this case, perhaps it is not so much how the storyteller envisions the ending, but what the audience expects to hear based on how the story has unfolded?.
There will be stories that I learn from despite the fact that they were never written for me as the intended community. Or perhaps they were designed for a specific time-space continuum and I happened across that story at a particular time. For example, I never would have read any of these stories without having decided to sign up for this course. I would never have taken the time to think about what makes a story good without being challenged to write this essay. I would not be spending my time in the shower thinking about how to build my storytelling muscles. I’ve seen a connection to how I want to tell stories by seeing how others tell theirs.
My journey changes as a result of the stories I read/hear/see as well as the stories I never read/hear/see. Story is part of my growth, my evolution as well as that of the community around me.
Most of all, do good endings help the story last and do they need to?
As the storyteller, if we don’t tell this story, then who will remember? For the sake of what – why did the storyteller decide that this story needed telling – why did they need to create this particular story? And in creating this particular story, did they create an ending that compels the reader/listener/viewer to finish the story.
And in receiving a story, do we become its caretaker? When a storyteller tells their story – do they truly know where those seeds will land? Are those seeds that will grow or change, depending on the soil they land on. Can the storyteller see how those seeds will grow and change? Or do they need to trust that even if they are not there to be the story’s caretaker, that the story will continue to spread roots and grow?
Why are there stories that we revisit again and again and why are there stories we leave in the middle? Are good endings good because of the way that we feel when the story is done? Do good endings provide a feeling of completion? Of excitement? Of curiosity? How do these stories evolve over time? And yet do stories ever end – does our story end when we die? As portrayed in Pixar’s movie “Coco’, do people fade away if we fail to tell their stories?
When a story has a good ending, we have connection, we have feelings, we have memories, we have change, we have growth which in turn leads to evolution and more stories. As living beings, we either evolve or we die. We need good stories to nourish and sustain us as much as we need food, water, shelter, and love. Even as we experience stories without good endings, we know that there will be more good endings out there – endings that will inspire us and perhaps incite us to share our own stories along the way. We are ever on a quest for good stories, uncertain and yet still committed, as to where we might find them.
As Thomas King says in the closing of Chapter 1,
Take Charm’s story, for instance. It’s yours. Do with it what you will. Tell it to friends. Turn it into a television movie. Forget it. But don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.
If nothing else, good endings are only the beginning of something else.
Would you add anything more to this list? What good endings have influenced you most?
- Nanette on Netflix
- King, T. (2010). Chapter 2 in The truth about stories: a native narrative. Toronto, ON: House of Anansi Press Inc.
- Kroeber, L. G. U. (2004). “Telling is listening’ in The wave in the mind: talks and essays on the writer, the reader and the imagination. Boston, MA: Shambhala.
- Entrances & Exits by Reif Larsen – Books on Google Play. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Entrances_Exits?id=p_taCwAAQBAJ
- Zak, P. J. (n.d.). How Stories Change the Brain. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_stories_change_brain
- Coco, downloaded 2/24/2020