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Degas said he didn’t 
paint what he saw. He painted what would enable them to see the thing he had.

January 10, 2009

You know one of the best things?  When you tell someone something that you think is really important and true and they nod, like they understand, and they do understand, and you realize that “Do you know what I mean?” might be the most important question in the English language.  But more often than not they need a little help before they can really dig it.  Let me show you how:

Sometimes to say something true you have to tell it slant.  In storytelling it’s not so much about the facts, but the feelings.  Some things don’t resonate with people unless they have experienced them, so if they haven’t it becomes necessary to embellish the story in a way that will resonate with them.  Resonation is utterly important.  You run into Steve Jobs in a bathroom on your first day at Apple.  He’s two sinks down from you.  He gives you a nod on the way out.  You’re on the floor shaking, because you have just been in the presence of genius.  Now, when you tell this story, in order to encourage the proper level of resonation, you’re not going to tell people that Steve gave you a head nod, but that he shook your hand and said, “Welcome to Apple.  Let me tell you how much I like the color white.”  Because that’s the only thing that will bring your audience’s feeling about the event on par with your feeling, unless they are one of those incredibly empathetic sorts, but let me tell you this is rarer than a regular sized dog in San Francisco. 

I have a friend who has perfected this strategy for use on her parents.   When they ask her how much her rent is she doesn’t say $875.00, she rounds up, says $1000.  Because that’s what it feels like.  To parents the mindset is always stuck somewhere around when they went to college in the 70s and nothing cost more than a dollar.  So you have to adjust.  Something that in the modern age costs $100 your parents will think shouldn’t cost over $75, so tell them it costs $150.  When they ask how much you make, don’t tell them it’s 17 an hour, say it’s 15 because that’s what it feels like.  My friend calls this “managed expectations.” 

Actually, you know what, I’m going to trademark this whole concept right now and call it resonation.  Definition: exaggeration calculated to sum up the specific feeling engendered by a person, place, or thing.

Once you start getting good at resonation you will begin to see opportunity to use it everywhere, and people will start to really understand what it feels like to be you.

You ate 3 cookies, call it 12 cause lord knows it feels like 30. 

Your cat deposited a dead rabbit on your bed in the middle of the night, when you were seven.  When you tell it the comforter becomes so soaked in blood that it’s dripping onto the floor, because didn’t it seem like at the time?  It was terrifying; make people feel it.  

If you’re not convinced yet, read this poem, and then tell someone you wrote it.  Because doesn’t it kind of feel like you did?

Poetry Is A Kind Of Lying by Jack Gilbert

 Poetry is a kind of lying,

necessarily. To profit the poet

or beauty. But also in

that truth may be told only so.

 

Those who, admirably, refuse

to falsify (as those who will not

risk pretensions) are excluded

from saying even so much.

 

Degas said he didn’t paint

what he saw, but what

would enable them to see

the thing he had.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. mom permalink
    January 11, 2009 12:02 am

    brilliant.

  2. Kent McMIllan permalink
    January 11, 2009 5:17 pm

    In storytelling it’s not so much about the facts, but the feelings.

    Resonance touches on what is going on, namely, that a word, idea, or image, to be effective and economical will trigger some association or cascade of associations in the reader/listener.

    There is also the problem of derailment when a train of images is being connected and set in motion. I don’t know whether you’re familiar with the poet, Frank Stanton, or not, but when his death was transformed into art by Lucinda Williams in her song “Pineola”, the fact that Stanton had offed himself by shooting himself in the heart with a .22 pistol and had taken three tries to do was transmuted in retelling into:

    Sonny shot himself with a 44
    And they found him lyin’ on his bed

    The choice of a .44 was final (and comes with the innate symbolism of four) and dramatically lethal, the .22 much less so.

    Either way, he ended up dead, but the true story tended to derail the overall narrative and so was false to the emotion of the story that was being told.

    • Ramona permalink*
      January 12, 2009 3:20 pm

      this is exactly what i’m talking about. very good example. I guess you “know what I mean.”

  3. Kent McMIllan permalink
    January 11, 2009 8:07 pm

    You run into Steve Jobs in a bathroom on your first day at Apple. He’s two sinks down from you. … Now, when you tell this story, in order to encourage the proper level of resonation, you’re not going to tell people that Steve gave you a head nod, but that he shook your hand and said, “Welcome to Apple. Let me tell you how much I like the color white.”

    I suppose that it would have derailed that particular story to have had Jobs say “I always like to use the women’s restroom because it’s invariably cleaner.”

  4. Kent McMIllan permalink
    January 13, 2009 10:18 pm

    Will it derail my comments if I add the footnote that when my keyboard typed “Frank Stanton”, it really meant “Frank Stanford”? I hope not.

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