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The beauty of simple storytelling

Mrs Veena Herron
Communications Manager

The ability to share a story in a way that retains its integrity, while also connecting with the reader, relies on more than simply conveying facts.

It is about preserving the essence of a message (fact) while evoking emotion (connection) without the story becoming so complex that it loses its original meaning and disengages its audience.

As a writer (and the School’s Communications Manager) a key aspect of my role, and one I thoroughly enjoy, is being in a position to share the stories of our Girls Grammar community. We are privileged each day to hear of the many achievements of Grammar girls, the success of past students, and accomplishments of our colleagues.

Ensuring we then share their stories (and not just a headline) without losing its authenticity, emotion, and most importantly, their voice, is a responsibility.

To be entrusted to do this—to capture and share someone’s story—often brings with it numerous drafts (it is not uncommon to pass version ‘z’), turmoil over ensuring the wording is ‘just right’ and debates about whether the clauses are related enough to be separated by a semi-colon, or require a full stop. Yes, these are the issues with which a writer often struggles.

Every conversation about punctuation, every minute spent searching for synonyms or wearing out the Ctrl+Z buttons on a keyboard are worth the end result: a piece of writing that not only tells someone’s message, but provides a glimpse into who they are and what it is that makes them human, allowing the reader to connect to them—to feel their pain, experience their joy as their own.

The best stories (in my opinion) are those that are sometimes painful in their simplicity. A few well-written words will always have more impact than a long paragraph that seeks to over-complicate what is, usually, a simple concept. In fact, many writers, inspired by the famous six-word tale, ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’ (attributed to Ernest Hemingway) have taken this concept online; numerous websites boast stories told in only a sentence—though I’m yet to discover one as evocative as Hemingway’s ‘six-word tale’.

In an era of the ‘tabloid’—a dramatic and over-emphasised controversial headline, often followed by an article with little substance—the art of genuine storytelling can, at times, seem lost.

Storytelling is not a new concept. Professor Jack Zipes details in his book, The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre, that humans began telling tales as soon as we developed the capacity of speech, and quotes Arthur Frank in exploring why stories retain their appeal today:

Stories work with people, for people, and always stories work on people, affecting what people are able to see as real, as possible, and as worth doing or best avoided. What is it about stories—what are their particularities—that enables them to work as they do? More than mere curiosity is at stake in this question, because human life depends on the stories we tell: the sense of self that those stories impart, the relationships constructed around shared stories, and the sense of purpose that stories both propose and foreclose. (Zipes, 2012, p.1)

Our desire to connect—to ourselves, and one another—has stood the test of time. Even now, when our digital devices provide us with endless options to minimise interaction with others, we crave connection.

Yet, we often do not tell our own stories. We decide our story—what makes us who we are, what has defined us, and what we hope for the future—is not worthy of being shared with others. We see the plethora of content ‘pushed’ to us each day, much of it lacking substance, and wonder if the appetite to consume real stories has been replaced with a desire to consume as much as we can without investing our time and energy into reading anything more than the three or four lines offered on social media before we are required to tap a ‘read more’ button.

This brings me to something I love about Girls Grammar: we value substance.

Our Insights articles reflect perfectly the School’s approach. Each essay is testament to the culture of deep thinking and intellectual rigour that supports our learning environment, reflecting the wisdom, imagination and excellence in scholarship that is nurtured among staff and students.

Within many of these essays is a personal anecdote, a story from which the platform of an Insights article is established. These stories provide insight (pardon the pun) into our authors. While they are often simple, as author Anthony Tjan asserts, there is a beauty in simplicity that resonates with the audience:

Making your words understandable and inspirational isn’t about dumbing them down. Instead, it requires bringing in elements such as anecdote, mnemonic, metaphor, storytelling, and analogy in ways that connect the essence of a message with both logic and emotion. Almost everyone leading or creating has a vision, but the challenge is often expressing it in ways that relate and connect. (Tjan, n.d., n.p.)

Some of the best stories I have heard, and those that have stayed with me, are those that quite simply, capture an entire person. Why? Because while stories ‘may not actually breathe’, they ‘animate human life’ (Frank, as cited in Zipes, 2012, p. 1 ).

They stir within us a desire to know more, to find out what happened next. We may even imagine our own version of the next chapter, or a possible sequel, creating our own scenarios based on what we hoped was the outcome.

That’s why, over the coming months, we plan to share the stories of our staff with the Girls Grammar community. Their stories, In their words. I hope their simplicity resonates with you, and that you are inspired to think of sharing your own story.

References

The Indispensable Power of Story. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/04/the-indispensable-power-of-story

Zipes, J. (2012). The irresistible fairy tale the cultural and social history of a genre. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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