Words of a Master Storyteller
June 21, 2012
Writing novels has given me a renewed appreciation for songwriters. They often say as much in one page as I do in three hundred.So I thought it might be fun to try this hear, see and do thing with a few words from famous songwriter, Tom T. Hall. Who doesn’t remember the year that Clayton Delaney died?
In another song, “Homecoming,” Tom T. tells the story that covers several decades in one page, about six hundred words. And he does it with only one character speaking.
Humor me. See if you can see what Tom T. is telling us in the first verse, just fifty-two words, four lines.
Guess I should’ve written Dad, to let you know that I was coming home
I’ve been gone so many years, I didn’t realize you had a phone
Saw your cattle coming in, boy, they’re looking mighty fat and slick
Saw Fred at the service station, told me his wife is awful sick
What do you see in your mind’s eye with each line?
A son returns after being away for many years with no contact.
We know the approximate era because the dad did not have a phone when the son left
Daddy’s a farmer/rancher—but the bigger issue is the son making small talk to avoid speaking about the invisible barrier between them—his prolonged absence and his guilt.
Fred is probably a brother who has a sick wife. The brother has stayed behind with his father.
Do you have a vision of the father and son meeting for the first time in years? Where are they? What are they wearing? I see the father in overalls and one of those Hank Williams hats, the son in a loud western shirt with the top two or three snaps undone. The father is on the porch and the son is at the porch steps of a little farm house with a fig tree in the yard and a swing on the porch, a vine grows up a trellis.
Do you see the cattle? What kind are they? See the old service station?
Now skip to the fourth verse.
I’m sorry I couldn’t be here with you all when Momma passed away
I was on the road, and when they came and told me, it was just too late.
I drove by the grave to see her; boy, that sure is a pretty stone
I’m glad that Fred and Jan are here, it’s better than you being here alone.
Can you see the gravestone, the little country graveyard? The anguish on the son’s face, the disappointment and grief on the father’s? And now we know that Fred is a brother.
Now the final verse (we’re skipping several good ones).
Well, Dad, I gotta go; we got a dance to work in Cartersville tonight
Let me take your number down, and I promise you I’ll write
Now you be good and don’t be chasin’ all those pretty women that you know
And, by the way, if you see Barbara Walker, tell her that I said hello.
We’re back to the guilty small talk, the awkward departure in order to return to a life the father does not approve of. And, of course, the old flame the son left behind. See the sweetheart’s face? See the forced smile on the son’s face disappear and a deep sadness fill his eyes as he mentions his old heartthrob?
Chuck Leddy, contributing editor to “Writer” magazine concludes in his review of Gottschall’s book, The Storytelling Animal, “Little wonder then that we seek to share our stories with others: Our brains are hard-wired to construct and absorb stories. Our love of story is what makes us human.”
Jonathan Gottschall seals the deal with these revealing words: “Until the day we die, we are living the story of our lives. And, like a novel in process, our life stories are always changing and evolving, being edited, rewritten, and embellished by an unreliable narrator. We are, in large part, our personal stories.”
Now, go read. Oops. I forgot the ones who need to read this don’t read. I am preaching to the choir. Marcel Proust called the moments of unity between writer and reader “that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude.” To my readers, I say thanks for that fruitful miracle. And thanks for your kind comments.
I am trying to hold up my end of this publisher/author agreement. Go Down Looking is now officially released on Amazon and I need reviews. If you read it and liked it, please go here and write a few words. You can also find it (and review it) at B&N and most other online bookstores. If you don’t own it yet, check out the special deal I am offering here.
At the risk of begging too much, I also need reviews for the e-book version of Rivers Flow. Go here. If you have already written one for the print book, feel free to repeat the same words. Remember that I am offering special deals at my website here. Many thanks.