The Accidental Plural (of Native English Storytelling)

The Accidental Plural of the Native-English Speaker’s Story

By Kelly Kobayashi

The way that we tell stories as a culture, as a community of smaller tribes, is defined as greatly by our writings as by our oral traditions.

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We’ve all asked someone about their family or childhood adventures. And surely they have responded with animated theatrics such as, “My mom was useless, man. She used to call me up at 3:00 a.m., drunk at the Kwik-E-Mart, begging me to pick her up. She used to dance, totally plastered, to All I Want for Christmas is You and knock the Christmas tree over.”

Or, “My Grandpa Walt was UNBELIEVABLE! He used to chase us through the house with the garden hose—through the house—for real! Grandma would catch us all and beat the smiles off our faces! But it was worth it! God, I miss him.”

If you read between the lines of stories such as these, then you know instinctually that the 3:00 a.m. Kwik-E-Mart, dancing-Christmas-tree-collision, and indoor-hosing-and-beating escapades each only happened once.

But you also know from the speaker’s language, the way that we native English-speakers—with our rather bad, but infective habit of constant exaggeration—these single scenes of life added up to create the human being standing before you now. This pluralization of the event is a sign of emotive power. The speaker so cherishes or reviles or has become defined by certain aspects of his life that they have expanded within him. “We once…” morphs into “We used to…” He must share this story, and the story almost tells itself as repeated occurrences.

These stories that you must share, the stories that stretch themselves beyond once in a lifetime—these experiences and growth spurts and belly-aching fits of laughter and moments of absolute humiliation have defined you as a person. They’ve crystalized into the moments you value, or at the very least, hold most intimately to your core, whether you like it or not. The inspirational and the horrific.

You know which stories you share in accidental plural form when introducing bits and pieces of yourself to those around you. So too should you attempt to share these bits and pieces of your singular expertise through your writing. All the things that you “used to” see, feel, participate in, be excluded from, or covet secretly are your gifts to give through your own storytelling.

Kelly Kobayashi is an editor, author, and ever helpful book reviewer. She works with both published and unpublished authors, and has a deep love of the written word. For more information, or to contact Kelly about her beta reading and book reviewing services, please contact her at her website, here.

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