Peter took the audience’s breath away, but not in a good way, and his story demonstrated why it can be hard to pull off the-worst-thing-that-ever-happened-to-me kinds of stories.
The first pitfall of these kinds of stories is this: The more sensational the content of the story, the less attention, I’ve noticed, storytellers pay to the actual craft of storytelling. If you’re telling a story about walking your dog it’s plainly obvious that you’re going to need to spin it well in order to keep anyone’s interest. But when the content of your story is on its face interesting, it’s tempting to think that all you have to do is “lay it out there” and people will be gripped, which isn’t true at all.
“I’ve been to a number of open-mic storytelling nights at bars up and down the East Coast. Erin’s story was funny, nicely tuned, and better delivered than most. But in other ways it was in keeping with the type of tales that seem to predominate at storytelling events — stories that fall under the general category of “The Worst Thing That Ever Happened to Me” and come wrapped at the end with an uplifting insight or hard-won truth.
After Erin finished I started to think about why it is that people gravitate to the most tragic or dramatic moments of their lives when given a chance to tell a story. There are, I think, two reasons. The first is that the storyteller feels an obligation to give his audience something novel — a story we’ve never heard before — which leads him to alight on the most singular experiences in his life. The second is that the worst moments in our lives are precisely the ones we want to be able to capture in a narrative, to master through the process of sharing them with other people.”
Our own Kevin Hartnett visits The Moth.