Recently, my son got interested in stop animation movies. You take a photo of a still scene and then move the figures in the scene slightly and take another photo. When it is finished, you have a video, where inanimate objects are moving. Kind of like magic.
My son has always told stories in motion. When he was little, his two-dimensional pictures were always a mass of color and squiggles, because he would draw the story as he was telling it. For him, stories that move carry truth. As we were making a movie about dinosaurs, I started thinking about what makes a story true.
When people talk about true stories, they typically mean stories that actually happened to real people. Stories that we usually label “nonfiction”.
There is another kind of true story, though. The kind of story that sticks with you, long after you are done reading it. The kind of story that comes to mind in a stressful situation or that influences your opinion on something. The kind of story that changes you, whether it was made up or actually happened.
That kind of story can be fictional or nonfiction. If a story is made up of a plot and characters created in an author’s imagination or put together from events and facts that happened in a real person’s life, they all have the same elements and are alive as they are being told. Depending on who is telling them, where they are telling them, what media they use to tell them, the story can have a slightly different meaning each time it is told.
So how do you take a story - whether it actually happened or has been made up - and make it true?
Each story we tell is chosen for a reason. There is a message we want to get across by telling it. If you don’t truly believe in what you are saying, it shows. The people listening to or reading your story will not believe it, if you don’t. So make sure you choose a story that you can tell from your heart.
Know who is reading or listening to your story, so you can tailor the tone and style to them. Include references to things that are familiar to them. Give examples that they will understand. If you are introducing a new idea to your listener, make connections to things you know they agree with and can relate to, so they don’t tune you out, before they’ve heard your entire point.
Readers need to feel connected to the characters and situations in a story. Even if you are telling a nonfiction story, there needs to be places where the reader feels empathy for the characters or connects emotionally with the action of the story. When you connect with an audience’s emotions, they will care about the story you are telling.
Whether the story ends with “they lived happily ever after” or “that’s the whole truth, nothing, but the truth, so help me, God”, it can be an method of changing the world, one listener at a time, by being “true”.