I am not a natural storyteller. I’m a natural writer, and a moderately natural creator-of-characters, but when it comes to figuring out what happens next, forget it. Conversations with myself at chapters 3, 9, 22 and 31 tend to go something like this…

ME: World comes to an end and they live happily ever after?
ME1: Crap.
ME: Tree falls in the forest, everyone hears?
ME1: Nice twist, but…nah.
ME: Heroine turns out to be alien?
ME1: Next.

My lack of story-telling prowess is the reason I fall back so frequently and comfortably on The Journey. Lead your innocent character through a dark wood and things are bound to happen. And as I frequently suggest to my audiences of keen young people (or the jaded middle-aged, with whom I identify far more), you can always steal a plot and make it your own — as long as you don’t pilfer whole paragraphs of prose, or someone else’s voice, or that quirky unusual ending where the clown and the dog turn out to be long lost sisters.

But recently it occurred to me that there is one piece of simple biological evidence that we are all storytellers.


Night time arrives, our conscious brains shut down, and the subconscious goes to town — creating whole worlds complete with long forgotten friends, bizarre landscapes, elaborate symbolism and weird plotlines that wouldn’t occur to us when we’re awake.

Access that subconscious. It’s all waiting for you.


10 thoughts on “Storytelling for idiots

  1. Vivian Oldaker 9 years ago

    Meg, having just last night finished reading “What I Was,” I would say that you are a storyteller par excellence. This amazing book is has the feel of a “classic” – like something you’ve always known and loved, even though it’s brand new and totally original. Although I wanted to find out how it ended, I didn’t want to finish it; another mark of a truly great book.

    1. Meg 9 years ago

      Lovely, thank you, Vivian.

  2. Vivian Oldaker 9 years ago

    I agree that dreams can be powerful tools, but all too often mine are mundane, pedestrian affairs. Last night I dreamt I had acquired a friendly and affectionate black Labrador. A feel-good dream, but the hardly the starting point for imaginative prose…..although I suppose if I dream of him again, he might tell me that someone is stuck down a well or unconscious in a blazing barn, starting me on a journey…. I can but hope!

    1. Meg 9 years ago

      Black dogs are about as seriously subconscious as you can get. Listen to that dog…..

  3. Hannah Smith 9 years ago

    It’s funny that you wrote this today…I woke up this morning from an especially vivid and even somewhat narrative dream that I couldn’t wait to put down in story form. It’s so amazing that one’s brain can construct such complex characters and settings without the least effort. I feel like my ideas almost always stem from someone else’s–and having recently read What I Was and How I Live Now, I have to admit your character voices have ingrained themselves in me. I can only hope that if I read enough books, eventually all the stolen elements will blend together into something like my own style. But I can usually rely on the dream world to bring something new and fresh, even if it rarely happens.

    1. Meg 9 years ago

      Well you never know, maybe he’ll read one or two of the books you send him someday!
      Thank you, Alice. xmeg

  4. Alice Kuipers 9 years ago

    Oh, I was just guest writing for that month – it’s not normally my project but Yann Martel’s instead. I’d love it if Harper read How I Live Now. Here’s hoping.

  5. Alice Kuipers 9 years ago

    NB- I hope your mum gets better soon

    1. Meg 9 years ago

      Thanks, Alice.

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