Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Another fascinating take on micro-storytelling

Joan spotted "One sentence: True stories, told in one sentence."

I think I'm of two minds about this.

One, as many of you know, I like short, spare storytelling and I like to try to see if we can do it well. I think doing it can be fun, is a treat for readers and sharpens skills we need to be effective reporters and writers -- like distilling the focus of a story, choosing words carefully, making every sentence count.

But:

Lately, I'm a little worried that so much focus on micro-writing -- and by this I mean Facebook, Twitter, story-commenting and other ways people communicate these days -- will create generations of people for whom a story is, "OMG! That bank that was robbed -- I was there 5 minutes before that! I'll never be able to go there again!" Or: "Scott Blanchard is enjoying playing Legos with his son."

Those are statements, not stories. There are, however, engaging stories behind each of those statements. But will people -- our future storytelling subjects -- be willing to tell those stories, so we can share them with our community? Or will they say, "I already told you what happened. It was on my Facebook entry."?

So -- this is admittedly picky, maybe a reflection of my mood right now -- my first thought when I looked at the "One Sentence" site was, these are one-sentence facts, or situations, or maybe even set-up lines for a standup comedian, but mostly, they are not stories.

For example, not a story: "When he said, 'Hey, beautiful,' I thought he was talking to me, until I saw the Bluetooth in his ear.'"

This, however, is a one-sentence story, I think: "I got married at 16 because I was pregnant, at 21 because I was rebounding, at 29 because I was in love, and at 45 because I was an idiot, but this time, at 56, I'm marrying for money." It has character, plot, even a little tension. Something happens in that one sentence -- the writer shows us that something is different.

We've been talking about Felix Feneon's three-line stories and doing some of our own this year. Doing that is tough enough. To take a real story down to one sentence is a challenge that isn't easily met, as I think this site shows.

And it's worth our while to remember that many people might think that's all there is to their story. We're the ones who have to understand there's more, and assemble the thinking and interviewing skills it will take to draw out those stories.