THE JOY OF STORY
John M. Daniel’s Blog
February 4, 2017
Greetings, friends and celebrators of the joy to be found in stories—writing them, reading them, telling them, or hearing them. If you enjoy a good story, this weekly blog is for you.
This week, beginning the first Saturday in the month, I present an installment of my book manuscript, also titled The Joy of Story. This book, which I will deliver to you in weekly installments, is a book I’ve written and may publish one day. Consider this a trailer that will play over the course of twenty-one months. That may be a record.
In this week’s brief offering I imagine how the art of story was first developed. It’s more than likely humans had already been telling each other whoppers and making up yarns since they began putting vocal noises together to communicate; but the following story-within-a-story imagines how the first rule of story-telling was established.
THE JOY OF
The Oldest Art: An Introduction
The oldest art form in human culture is the story. I am the veteran of several arguments on this topic with would-be anthropologists who claim the title for dance, music, cave paintings, and double-entry bookkeeping. But I stick to my guns: the story got there first.
I date the beginning of human culture by the beginning of human spoken communication. I’m talking about speech that transcends snarls of anger, grunts of lust, and screams of fear. I say human culture began with sentences at least as complex as “You going to eat the rest of that haunch of ibex, or what?” Conversation.
Knowing human beings as I do, I’m willing to bet my wallet that as soon as our ancestors learned to communicate with each other by speech, they started developing skills to entertain, impress, and hoodwink each other. Since truth wasn’t always up to the task (it isn’t today, so why should it have been for cave folk?), the act of embellishment was discovered, and fiction was born.
Of course story doesn’t have to be fiction. But isn’t it, usually? Ask most memoirists today, and they’ll agree that a certain amount of “editing” is involved.
So return with me now to the Primal Circle, a bunch of human beings (with some Neanderthal DNA in the mix, although polite cave folk don’t talk about how it got there) gathered together around a campfire after a hard day of hunting.
“Good gnus, Murray,” says the Boss, an ancient woman in her fortieth year. “How’d you manage to kill two in the same day?”
Murray swallowed his bite of barbecued gnu, wiped his beard, took a swig of banana beer, belched, and began to spin his yarn. “Well, see, I was walking down by the Muchmuck River, talking to my friend Cedric, the African Grey parrot who knows stuff, and he told me that on the other side of the Muchmuck was a plain called the Banana Savanna, where I would find some gnus. I guess I was busy listening to Cedric, and not watching where I was going, and I tripped over a log and fell right into what passes for water in the Muchmuck river. I stood up, sputtering and listening to my parrot so-called friend laughing at me, when the log sprouted stubby arms and legs, swished an armored tail, opened a grin full of razor-sharp stalactites and stalagmites, and slithered into the water. Well, I took off with the current, going like gangbusters, but I could hear the splash of that croc getting closer and closer to my feet. If it hadn’t have been for Cedric dive-bombing the river-lizard, why—”
“Aw baloney,” said Hugo, a burly fellow who looked like a cross between Burt Reynolds and a Rottweiler. “Not how it happened at all.”
“Shut up, Hugo,” said several cave folk, using different combinations of words, some of which we don’t have anymore, and others I don’t dare repeat.
“But we all crossed Muchmuck River on that log,” Hugo insisted. “There wasn’t any crocodile. And what’s more—”
The Boss spoke. “Let Murray tell it.”
“Why?” Hugo demanded. “I was the one who brought back the gnus, not Murray.”
“Murray tells it better,” the Boss said.
Ever since Murray recounted the hunts each evening to his fellow cave folk, the subtleties of storytelling have been honed and practiced and have entertained and enlightened listeners and readers. Many of the rules and tools of fiction were discovered and developed by the earliest of storytellers. And one aspect of the art form remains to this day: whoever tells the best story gets the most attention.
Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories
The deadline for March’s 99-word story submissions is March 1, 2017. The stories will appear on my blog post for March 11, and will stay posted for a week.
note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.
Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:
1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to: email@example.com
THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY (choose one):
Make up a story inspired by the following quotation from Julius Caesar: “Beware the Ides of March,”
or inspired by the following couplet:
“The winds of March that make my heart a dancer;
A telephone that rings, but who’s to answer?”
Calling all published authors—
I try to feature a guest author the third Saturday (and week following) of each month. If you’re interested in posting an essay on my blog—it’s also a chance to promote a published book—email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for visiting. Please drop by next week!