Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Roots of Story

“Sarah, you draw a tree here.”

“Okay. Now you draw a cloud.”

This was the substance of the discussion as my four- and five-year-old granddaughters collaborated on a drawing during lunch at a recent family reunion. I was especially intrigued with the final phase of this art project.

“Now let’s make a story about our picture,” said Marley.

The story began much earlier as they drew their respective avatars, Princess Sarah and Princess Marley, and talked about the rain coming from the clouds. They discussed which words to write on the picture. Now it was time to summarize their narrative. I have no doubt they would have written the entire story down if they’d known how. For now the few words they could manage sufficed.

Since they live several states away from each other, these cousins almost never see each other, but you’d never know that to see them play and work together. I was fascinated to watch the way story binds them together. They created story as they drew, and they seemed to intuitively know that story would put the final touches on their art. Story gives it structure and meaning.

The story they contrived reflects much of the reality and truth of their experience together on this short trip. It defines the state of their relationship — two princesses love each other. They drew in their surroundings, remaining true even to the climate. This whole episode was totally spontaneous and uncontrived. They seemed unaware they were even being watched.
I could ask for no stronger naturally occurring evidence that our minds use story as an organizing principle to make sense of life and the world. This is another example of how our brain structure uses Story as its operating system.

These tiny girls were using story to summarize their lives in the now, and also, probably without realizing it, they were shaping their futures by rehearsing relationships and practicing how to deal with the rainstorms of life. I was thrilled to watch life writing in its purest and most elemental form and witness the power of story to bind two lives together, if only for a few fleeting moments. If they continue to use story so fluidly and naturally, they should continue to be very healthy young ladies.

Write now: find a friend or family member and collaborate on a story. Use pictures as writing prompts if you have some handy.

Image credit: Sarah and Marley

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