What Motivates Characters ?

As a storyteller I imagine that the characters in the story I am telling are real. I can see them in my mind’s eye. They have human qualities. As I prepare a story for retelling, I’m often stopped in my tracks wondering “Why did they do this  … and not that?

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There’s a Sufi story Idriess Shah retells about a group of villagers discovering something they’d never seen before in the middle of their wheat field. They thought it was a monster and ran for their lives. 

Life does bring the unexpected. Wandering in a garden, I  wondered what made gardeners do this?

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Then one day, a knowing stranger came along. When he crept up to investigate the monster he saw it was a watermelon. But pretending he was a brave warrior, he jumped up and killed it : chopped it to pieces. The villagers were amazed. When he then began to eat it noisily, they were horrified and feared they might be next! So they chased him away from their village.

This world is full of differences; new; strange; unfamiliar.

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There are sights that can arouse assumptions. Who are the flowers for … and why?
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Why did they leave these behind? Did they have fun stomping on the cans?

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“What possessed the makers to dye these cheeses?

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Recently, my sister told me she’d watched the completion of beautiful mural near the Paris flat where we were staying. Next day, what I saw wasn’t what I expected. Why did he do this?

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Some days later another traveller walked into the village and heard about their monster in the wheat field. When he saw how frightened they were, he crept to the field alongside them and having seen the watermelon, said they were right to be afraid and together they ran back to the village. He stayed with them for a while and every day, bit by bit, he told them all the facts that he knew about watermelons … until the time came when the villagers were no longer afraid and they started cultivating those strange fruits themselves.  

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© Meg Philp

Thankfully, characters’ motives in folktales are made really obvious.  Balance must be restored and problems solved in a shortened space of time . Each character’s desires are made clear from the beginning. They want to change, to go out and seek their fortune :  to move from ill fortune to good fortune,  from fear to confidence, from doubt to trust. They want to live well.

When observing people’s actions in real life, their motivation is not so easy to fathom.

Perhaps that’s why people tell stories. By learning from a safe distance what others feel like –  through the story’s characters, their choices and possibilities for action – we are learning how to live well, together, before any “monsters” appear.

I can learn about myself and others by putting myself in the character’s place. As the poet W.H Auden once said,

The way to read a fairy tale is to throw yourself in.

What do you think?

All text, except quote,  and photos by Meg

NB. I read this Idries Shah’s story recently but I can’t remember where. You can find Sufi stories in his collections like –

Tales of the Dervishes: teaching-stories of the Sufi Master over the past thousand years, London, Octagon Press, 1982

 Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Story: a Dance Floor

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Take me in your arms as the fiddles are playing and waltz me around the floor.

I came upon this ornament in a Thrift shop. I just had to buy it. It reminded me how much I love dancing.

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Let me dream for a while …

Dancing is such a fun thing to do. But …  I remember those scary times when I had to waltz smoothly, gliding across the floor .. and how nervous I felt with a new partner.

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… in the warmth of your smile, so I won’t feel alone anymore.

Did you ever waltz? Were you holding on too tightly? Did you stumble over their toes?

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Maybe we’ll win or maybe we’ll lose, playing the game of romance.

0r were you sure your partner was thinking of other things … other mice … other tails? We all carry our stories inside us and sometimes, just a little ornament can take us back to those times.

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I heard Ed Stivender, a famous US storyteller,  tell stories at the National Storytelling Festival in Tennesse last October. Ed told whimsical, funny stories, spontaneous tales, even biblical tales, and sang and played harmonica as he went along. He led the “Fringe” festival in the Main street at 5 pm on the Saturday.

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In a interview earlier that day, I had listened to Ed in an interview as he reflected on his experiences as a storyteller. He talked about his cardinal rule –  ” Give the audience a break from the realities of the world … their worries,  their fears” and he also described what the consequences were for him, when he once broke that rule.

His perspective on a storyteller’s relationship with their audience was compelling.

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He believes story is the dance floor … for the dance of the imagination between audience and teller: the whole event can be an occasion of Grace.

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But we’ll never find out what Love’s all about- if we don’t join in the dance!

My dancing mice reminds me of Ed the storyteller and of storytelling itself.

You might have noticed they’ve had their tails replaced. Nothing’s perfect. When I found them, they had no tails  … how could they keep their balance without their tails?  So you can see I innovated, and made them new tales.

I think they like them. They’re good enough.

[Photo captions are lyrics from a favourite song, The Maybe Waltz, written by Anne Infante]

All photos and text by Meg Philp

Stories Twigs … ! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

First published 2014. Updated 20 March 2016 <a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/dance/”>Dance</a&gt;

Glue for the job

I find myself fixing broken things around the house. I take pride in that.

One Christmas a friend gave me a box of tools. It worked. I bought an electric drill and a new spade and I was all set. I could fix most things on my own. Except when it came to gluing broken pieces together … which was the right glue for the job?

IMG_0994 Stop and think. Story – there’s a story by Richard Kennedy called “The Porcelain Man” I have his permission to tell it, and have done so for years. In it, there’s a girl kept shut away from the world, by a harsh father. (My own father’s explanation whisper in my head “I was only trying to protect you.”) And the girl spent all day inside, mending broken things, so her father could sell them. “That was how they made their living…”

Now for some reason, I’ve always made a strong point of her having the specific type of glue for different kinds of material  … I found my own solution several years ago … no … not super glue, but a multi-purpose glue that sticks anything together, but not skin.

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 Stories are like that – for me, they glue the different bits and pieces of my life together and make sense, so I understand, and can get on with living.

 This blog is dedicated to the stories I find and you find, everywhere.

All text and photos by Meg

Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.