Beat the brain drain


Almost everyone likes a story. Whether a scary legend about ghosts told around a campfire, an embarrassing anecdote detailed at a family gathering, a cultural folk tale or just a narrative of the day's events, most people will listen, hoping and expecting to be entertained. Many people also enjoy reading for the same reasons – or perhaps to learn something and then pass on the knowledge to others.

Thus, telling stories is a great way to connect with others as well as a good way to explore, nurture and expand one's own creativity.

Kids are natural story tellers and should be encouraged to do so. They can easily be prompted to answer “what if” scenarios and are generally very willing to provide “and then.. and then...” details or expand upon a plot. It can be fun – and often insightful – to create a unique story with someone by each person stating a person, place and thing, and then describing a scenario. For example: Mary, the beach and a kite as well as Joe, a parking lot, and an ice cream cone. Are Mary and Joe twin siblings whose parents took them to the beach, but the kids are whining in the parking lot because Joe wants an ice cream cone, and Mary is more interested in seeing if she can get her new kite to fly? Or are they teenagers, unknown to each other, and Mary, having obtained an ice cream cone from a vendor in the parking lot, glances at the beach and she sees good-looking Joe running along trying to get a kite to take flight, and distracted Mary trips into a hole that a child dug while creating a sand castle, thus falling flat on her face and dropping her cone? Or perhaps Joe is an elderly man, sitting on a bench at the edge of the parking lot, reminiscing about when his own daughter was a toddler, while watching young Mary happily gazing up in wonder at a kite someone unseen behind the dunes is flying.

Be prepared for any story to take unusual turns. Creativity can be a wild ride.

Writing stories can also be enjoyable for people of all ages.

Young writers get practice using different words and sentence structures and thinking “outside the box.” (They may also improve their handwriting or typing abilities.) Teens are famous for expressing their angst through prose or poetry; the process may assist them in understanding their feelings or providing an outlet for their thoughts. Adults of all ages may feel as if the next great novel is just waiting to be written by them.

Enid Bagnold, author of “National Velvet,” expressed it well: “Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”

Back in the day before a cell phone became permanently embedded in everyone's hand, people actually talked face to face. Or if they were using a phone, it was from a stationary location with one’s full attention and not chatting while simultaneously multi-tasking other things. Riding in the car, even if just on a short jaunt to a store, provided a chance for the driving adult to communicate with the passenger kids. Or together walking somewhere: people used to use their voice rather than striding along side-by-side but staring down at a phone. And at the dinner table, where people used to come together each evening to break bread and discuss life's ups and downs. Today, if the family gathers together at all, sadly, often silence reigns and more glances are made at a phone than at each other or one's plate.

Storytelling, either verbally or in writing, is not difficult; there are numerous ways to get started. Here are a few suggestions.

Keep a journal or diary, and make a habit of writing daily.

Use a computer to visit one of a multitude of sites that offer writing “sparks.” Many have generators that produce plots, settings, a line of dialogue and more.

Talk to people... and listen.

Let puppets or stuffed animals “ask” questions and provide the dialogue of funny fables or historical events.

Compare and contrast various things older people had and the ways they did things with today's versions. (Like listening to music: a store-purchased vinyl 45 with a plastic disc inserted in the center hole, played on a turntable with a needle that occasionally needed to be replaced versus today's streaming.)

Create a scrapbook collection of family stories and recollections.

Actually print photographs (rather than swiping a phone screen), then name the people and describe the what, when, where and why of the scene.

Tear a picture out of a magazine and use it as a story prompt.
Open a dictionary to five different random pages and write down the 14th word (or any preselected number) on each of the five pages, then write a story encompassing those terms.

Think of a prequel for a well-known fairy tale.

Write a fable to explain something (pretend you’re Aesop or Kipling.)

Be creative, not bored.

Think. Talk. Write. Share. Have fun.