True love, first love, lost love.
Humans are fascinated with romantic love, commitment and procreation (I'm not talking about sex directly here, but about the bonds that lead us to create families). Mythology is full of love stories. Cupid and Psyche. Rachel and Jacob. Krishna and Radha. Arthur and Guinevere and Lancelot. Our folktales are consumed with love and marriage. Our films, all musical genres, books and popular media are consumed with it. Who and how we love matters, we love talking about it, dreaming about it, telling stories about it.
Unrequited love, secret love, unwanted love.
When we tell love stories, regardless of the content of the story, we are revealing some of our own longing and dreams. We can't help it. The stories we choose to tell are always revealing, especially so when those stories are about something as meaningful as love. It's worth keeping this in mind when you stand up in front of an audience and tell a love a story; when you finish, they might know a little more about you that they did before.
There are some points to consider when telling love stories.
- Personal, real-life love stories are very powerful for the audience to hear. They can identify more easily with you, the teller, and the other characters if they believe this is a real-life (or close to real-life) experience.
- Has enough time passed since the incident that you can tell the story without the audience having to worry about you or you having to worry about the consequences? If you fall apart in the midst of your story then the audience is wrenched out of their own imaginations and into concern about you. Your job as a storyteller is to help them stay in that story-trance. If you can't yet tell the story of your break-up without crying, work on the story more or wait a bit longer. If the story is about your unrequited love in 7th grade that turned into an affair thanks to Facebook when you were 30, you may want to leave the story in the first person and only conceal the identity of the other people in the story as needed. I don't recommend telling your spouse about the affair this way; make sure enough time has passed that all the involved parties can bear hearing the story or at least knowing it exists.
- If you choose to tell a real-life love story decide how much information you should reveal or conceal. If the story is about real people, would they mind you talking about them? If your parents met in a strip club and this is a closely guarded family secret, you may want to shave off the serial numbers a little.
- Your passion becomes the audience's passion. There is a great deal of difference between, "We broke up," and "I loved them so much. It was so good for so long. And then something happened." Use your emotions to build the narrative.
- If you're telling a myth or folktale, don't strip the passion out of it. Tell it like it's real. These stories have stuck around for a long time because they talk about some of the basic parts of being human.
Isis' quest to restore the body of her husband Osiris is full of love and sex, jealousy and triumph, pain and loneliness, feelings we may think of as very modern, yet the story is thousands of years old. When you tell these stories, they are your story. They speak of your own experiences in metaphoric language, so you can infuse them with your own love, longing, pain and jealousy.
- Use sex appropriately. Sex can be a part of love and so it may have a place in our love stories. If your story has sex scenes make sure you've practiced and are comfortable telling them. Do your best to gauge your audience; for many audiences an implied moment is far more meaningful and comfortable than a more thoroughly described one. Generally with love stories, you don't want to knock your listeners out of their story trance by making them embarrassed.
- Everyone has similar experiences. The details of your love story will vary and will be utterly unique to you, but we all have loved, longed and lost at some point in our lives. By telling these stories we connect with one another, we comfort each other, we are given permission to feel just a little bit more than we might otherwise allow ourselves.
As storytellers we are the ambassadors of human experience. Regardless of the kinds of stories we tell - but especially stories of basic experiences like love - we offer our listeners a chance to feel less alone, more connected and more alive. We heal ourselves and others by telling love stories and offering the hope that we, too, will be loved.
(c)2011 Laura S. Packer