Before I could write, I told stories, first to myself then to my sister; when I became a teacher, story telling became an intrinsic and vital part of my way of delivering the goods. Story telling in my teaching wasn’t just going through something in a text book, I would recount tales of my life and experiences, usually without exaggeration although sometimes emphasis one part over another for dramatic effect.
However, sometimes I would tell lies to my students… yes, I confess! For example, I had a colleague working with me as a learning support assistant. Sue was a rather stout, very short lady in her fifties and I told the students that when she was young she had been a trapeze artist and tight-rope walker in a circus. She would laugh and laugh and the students believed me because it just seemed so extraordinary it had to be true! I told them that although she spent her working time in spangly tights and tiny tutus, during the day she was very demure and always wore long skirts. Her husband-to-be was visiting the circus and she was wandering round the fairground outside and had a go on the coconut shy. As she threw the ball at the coconut her long skirt lifted slightly and he caught a glimpse of her ankle… And now, nearly forty years later, she was married to him, with two sons, and she still had the coconut she won.
“Is that true?” asked my students, the naughty kids in the Pupil Referral Unit.
“What do you think?” I asked…. Sue denied it but they believed me.
Another story happened when we were based in a college on the 4th floor; I had been working there for a year or so and told my students there was a ghost which haunted the floor and could be seen early in the mornings when the cleaners were about. Several years later, when I had a different lot of students and we were talking about ghosts and the paranormal, one of them told me about the ghost of the fourth floor… which his brother had seen when he was at college!
There are many other stories… maybe I will share them another time, but the point of this post is that I think my narratives run as stories in my head before I write them down. When I write them down I can hear what my characters are saying, all the little exclamations, repetitions, unfinished sentences of normal speech. If I were telling the tale out loud I could repeat what my characters say and use intonation and facial expression to make it interesting. When it is there on the page, on page after page of conversation, it is just boring for the reader who doesn’t have all the extra I would give as a story-teller, and even with the most brilliant and vivid writing, transcription of speech can be tedious, and lose impact.
I am very conscious of this as I edit, and now I am going through ‘Loving Judah’ with a sharpened scythe, sweeping out whole reams of chit-chat. I hope I will end up with a tighter, more gripping text without the reader losing a sense of the characters’ voices.
I am very conscious of this as I edit my work, telling all the tale, doesn’t have to be all the tale!