Nov 28, 2007

The Art of Storytelling

I love stories. When I choose books or authors, I lean towards science fiction, but if I know that an author is a good storyteller, I'll read just about anything that they write, up to and including dishwasher manuals. I love the feeling of being carried off by a good story, regardless of length—I'll tend to lose track of all time when absorbed in one, forgetting to eat, drink, and even fending off sleep as long as possible. I also love telling stories, but that's a story for another time.

Fifteen years ago when I lived in Rome, a friend offered me his entire Stephen King collection if I would read the first 100 pages of Lord Foul's Bane, the first book of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever trilogy (which actually had a second trilogy after the first). Given that English books in Italy were a commodity more valuable than gold, I gladly took him up on his offer. I mean, how bad could 100 pages of any book be?

Well, it turned out that it was pretty bad—the story was extremely slow to advance and the main character did something so totally reprehensible that I really didn't think I wanted to read any further since I hated what he had done. Yet, greedy for over a dozen Stephen King books that I hadn't read (and King's early stuff is some great storytelling), I trudged on, taking almost eleven days to read up to page 90.

Then something happened. The author finished his lengthy introduction and, with the stage set, he took off with an incredibly compelling story. I realized that the awful thing the main character had done was vitally important to understanding his weaknesses, his guilt, his conscience, and above all, the inner pain and conflict that made him who he was.

I read the rest of the book and both trilogies in one week.

Six books—over 3,000 pages— in one week. I pretty much did nothing but read, sleep, eat, and drink (in that order) for the duration, and when I came out of my reverie, I felt like I'd been on a year-long vacation. I'd practically lived the life of a fictional character for seven whole days of my life.

So I often look for new and interesting stories, and every so often I find one that really grabs me by the shoulders and engages me, for however briefly. And in fact, the tiny gem that brightened up this dreary Chicago November day was a blog post from a fellow Googler in Australia, titled Engineers should not wear suits, and it started like this:

It's against the laws of nature. If God had wanted engineers to wear suits, he would have given us social skills and motor coordination. I violated this law on Tuesday night, and woe befell me.

And with that, he had me hooked. I was dying to find out where this was going, and even more thrilled when I got there. Click through to read the rest.

1 comment:

The People History said...

I remember when I found of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, must be many years ago and acted the same as many kids have acted the last few years over the Harry Potter Books I would wait on tenderhooks for the next to be available

Reminds me I should try and read them again