The Connective Tissue of StorytellingMar 17, 2022
by Nick Kindler
A good friend recently recommended an audiobook called “A Swim in the Pond in the Rain” by George Saunders. It’s an exploration of how great writing works, how great stories are written, and what they can do to and for the reader and listener.
The book shares some of the greatest short stories in Russian literature (Saunders would argue some of the best short stories ever written) by Chekhov, Turgenev and Tolstoy and read by well-known actors, Nick Offerman, Glen Close, and Rainn Wilson. The stories and readings are terrific, but the true wonder lies in Saunders lessons and musings on what makes each story work.
While I recommend listening to it and, of course, reading it, it’s not overly technical, I recognize that this might not be everyone’s cup of tea. So I want to share a few key insights on storytelling as shared by Saunders:
As Saunders breaks down The Cart by Anton Chekhov, he asks, “Why is it unfolding in this way?” Do we want to know more about the character? Do we care?” As Saunders puts it, “Why do we keep reading a story? Because we want to. Why do we want to? That’s the million-dollar question.” Each sentence should leave us hungry for the next.
Again, during The Cart, Saunders asks “Where might the story go from here? Scan your mind, make a list. Which of your ideas feel too obvious?” In fact, at one point in the story, a new character is introduced who could easily become a romantic relationship for the lonely protagonist. The reader is rooting for this to happen. However, almost as quickly as the idea is introduced, it’s removed and disregarded, leaving the reader wondering, “What now?”
Probably the most meaningful takeaway was Saunder’s message of “Just do it.” If you have a story you want to share or have ideas you want to get out into the world, then start by writing one sentence at a time. This article is an example of this exercise. I thought of it. Procrastinated. (I have a Ph.D. in Procrastination!) Then finally wrote, “A good friend of mine recommended the book…” It was the catalyst for putting these ideas down on paper and sharing them with the world.
You can find it A Swim in the Pond in the Rain on Audible. Happy listening!