Last week, I was sitting in a high school lecture hall, listening to thirty sophomores perform short monologues– and I was mesmerized. I chuckled, I got choked up. I was at times sad, hopeful and motivated. Were these monologues about unusual people in extraordinary times? Great courageous folks who changed the world? No. They were about people just like me – parents of teenagers.
Each student interviewed one of their parents, asking them to describe everything from growing up to their career to having children. Then each student created, in their parent’s own words and actions, a monologue that would most reveal true passions and identity.
I heard about families leaving the church, protests of the Vietnam conflict, struggles with racism, challenges of being a teen mom. The story of a 3 year old being “exorcised” of temper tantrums by gypsies in Bosnia made me laugh. Stories of boys being constantly bullied by their older brothers made me mad.
Without realizing it, I had been drawn in by the power of story. Some stories were more unusual than others, but I can honestly say that wasn’t what drew me in. What made a story interesting was colorful details, emotion, authenticity, and the expression of the student telling it.
We may not want to admit this, but we don’t often make our biggest decisions from our logic or intellect. We truly are emotional beings, and we act from our heart. We long to see and hear about people being transformed, whether it’s a beast turning back into a prince or a young fighter stepping into his true identity of a Jedi warrior. This longing was hard wired into us by our Creator. When we see someone transform in a story, it gives us hope that we can be transformed too. It gives us hope for transformation in the world.
As a writer, this is a big part of my calling – to tell stories that will give hope. And what are the best stories to tell? I asked my daughter how they chose the pieces of the interviews to use for their monologues. She said they used these criteria: something they found moving or interesting, places their parent got most passionate, or words, phrases or stories that most captured the essence of their parent.
I plan to use this wisdom from her high school English class. Whether I’m writing my own story or someone else’s, I’m always writing to try and engage people’s hearts. For those of us who write because we want to see change the in the world, story is one of the most powerful tools we have.
What do you think? How do you use story in your writing?