The Magic of Storytelling

Arundhati Roy wrote a beautiful and heart-wrenching story, The God of Small Things, which won her the Booker Prize in 1997. Though the book is fiction, what she writes about a Kathakali play, as the main characters Estha and Rahel watch it in the History House, is universal.

“The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t.”

I finished reading Arundhati Roy’s book the other night, and the story sat with me for a long time. I knew the fate of the characters as the story unfolded, but I read anyway. The end grabbed my heart and pulled me down for a while. It was painful. But, for me, closing the book and wandering through the rest of my day with the characters at the forefront of my mind is clear evidence of a great story (even if it hasn’t won an award).

A different author wrote a blog post on a different subject, but it resonated with me as much as the quote from Arundhati Roy’s novel. Michelle Davidson Argyle, aka. Lady Glamis from The Literary Lab, reflects about knowing when we’re writing honestly:

“Magic. That’s what seems to happen when I manage to get honesty into my writing. It’s like a memorable, catchy song where everything comes together and it makes me feel a mixture of emotions that reach more deeply than I thought was possible. I look into the mirror and I see me, but I don’t see me. It has become a creation that took on a life of its own. My honesty gave it that life.”

I’ve settled into the magic of a great story many times. And,I’ve ridden the magical roller coaster of honest writing a few times, when the details of a story pour out in smooth succession: thrills, chills, and elation.

Those are the reasons why I love literature, and why I keep coming back to writing.

***

Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1998 (p. 218). Print.
Argyle, Michelle Davidson. “That Song was Dinner.” The Literary Lab, November 19, 2009. Online.

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3 responses to “The Magic of Storytelling

  1. I agree, Christi, chasing that magic is addicting. I’m not feeling it in anything new I try to write and it’s frustrating. I know it will come. I’m just impatient for that high.

    You know how passages or scenes from something you read stay with you for years? Sometimes I wonder if the author felt the magic when they wrote that part. Did they know when they wrote these lines, this scene, that it would be memorable?

    • You pose an interesting question. Sometimes I think, yes, the author must have known (or at least hoped). But then, each reader approaches a text differently. While some passages may be magic for everyone who reads them. Other passages touch only a few, but just as powerfully.

      Imagine: The Brevity of Roses is published and you’re at a reading. A loyal reader approaches you with your book clutched to her chest and tells you about the most powerful moment for her. Then you’ll be able to answer that question. Did you know it would be memorable? 🙂

  2. Here’s a laugh for you. One day I leafed through one of the notebooks lying around to jot down notes in and found a line that I loved. I figured I must have read or heard it somewhere, so I went online to try to find out who said it. I never could. Then when I printed out my ms and read it through for the first time … you guessed it … I was the author of that line! I felt pretty stupid. So I’m a little nervous when I think of someone quoting a passage I wrote and questioning me about it. Will I remember anything about when or why I wrote it? Will I even remember that I wrote it? 🙂

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