Tuesday, August 17, 2010


A single story can be hopeful or not-so-hopeful. It all depends on where you put the emphasis.

1) Create hope in a story you tell by making sure you know in your heart where the hope is. Feel it first.

2) Create hope by playing with time. Make the time span as long as it needs to be.

Ronna Jevne: “Hope is grounded in the past, focussed on the future and experienced in the present. It enables people to envision a future in which they are willing to participate.”

How can we structure a story about the past that will cause us to feel hope for the future? As we saw in Part 1

Part 1 of this series, stories don’t always make us or others hopeful the first time we tell them. We have to tinker a bit. One way of creating hope in a story is to play with time. We can make the time span as long as it needs to be. It is, after all, the teller who ultimately chooses the earliest and latest points of reference for any story.
On the night of November 4, 2008, newley elected US president Barack Obama gave a victory speech that was, by its design, deliberately hopeful. Its theme was “Yes We Can” and its message was: “We know we can because we have done it in the past.” In order to allow maximum space for hope, Obama chose a main character for his story who had just voted at the age of 106. He could then tell a story of America’s achievements during her long life. And then, because she was of African-American descent, and because he wanted to show that Americans had overcome slavery, he overcame an obvious limitation by stating that she was born just one generation after slavery. That was the only mention of slavery. But by including that single reference, he had made a long story short, and he had made it hopeful.
A few years ago I set out to create a story about women with breast cancer. I wanted to show how they had overcome a code of secrecy and learned to speak for themselves. Early versions of the story began in the 1970’s when women first began to speak publicly on the topic. The version I tell now begins in the present then cycles rapidly backward with short vignettes all the way back to the time of Hipocrates. The story of how women have changed in the past 30 years has more impact when it also shows that women did not speak for thousands of years, even though men spoke on the topic with various theories. One of the underlying themes is that things stayed the same for a very long time, and then, when they began to change, they changed a lot in a short time.

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