Transformative Storytelling It’s All in the Details

By: Mary Anna Rodabaugh in Book Writing and Editing
on February 17th, 2022

The loss of a loved one is a heartbreaking life event many of us have experienced one time or another. In this beautifully vulnerable article, Kelsey Schurer, executive editor for Round Table Companies, takes readers onto the snow-covered terrain of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Through her exquisite storytelling, Schurer paints a literary picture so clear, you can see your own cloud of breath as you read her carefully crafted words.

“We take the wood-handled ax and hack away at the thick layer of ice covering the water trough. The horses are quiet, the wind heavy; the shattering of ice and our labored breathing are the only disruption for miles. Cheeks pink with cold, we quickly remove the chunks of ice out of the trough and refill the basin with water,” Schurer writes.

This scene takes place at a horse farm where Schurer receives the opportunity to administer medicine to two ill horses with some sort of flu.

“I call the syringe. The medicine is a thick brown paste, and after catching each horse with a lead, I have to come up beside their head and tuck the plastic tip of the syringe in their mouth. You can see the snot crusting along their nostrils from the cold. There’s green goop in the corner of their brown eyes,” Schurer writes.

Visceral Storytelling

The best storytellers call upon the five senses for storytelling. While most writers rely on sight or vision, as that is the easiest of the senses to write about, the best storytellers find ways to incorporate the other senses. For example, with touch, you can describe temperature. Smell can call upon familiar scents and provoke the reader. Visceral storytelling provides writers the opportunity to pull in details the protagonist may not see in the present moment.

Tell your story.

Schurer uses this device when describing a phone conversation with her grandfather before he passed away. From the way his mustache moves when he talks to the gentle whirr of his oxygen machine, Schurer places readers in the room with her beloved historian even though she is separated from him in that part of her story. The more details you authentically use in your storytelling, the more realistic your story will become.

Storytelling Connections

When writing a deeply personal story, it is important to find ways to make connections with all types of readers. What is deeply moving for one reader may seem absurd or mundane to the next. While this is perfectly acceptable, there are ways to take your most personal and vulnerable moments and connect them to a nearly universal experience.

I’m not yet aware that grief and loss will hit me like a snowstorm. That in all my agony and numbness, I will not be able to pick up a paintbrush for years. That the desire to make art will be severed from me, just as he was severed from me. That any loss comes in waves, one right after the other; you think you lose one thing, and another thing goes with it, and another thing goes with that. That years later, the entire world will be hit with loss in the form of a virus—that all of us will be quarantined, just as those horses,” Schurer writes.

“The best way to purge some of this agony is to simply share it. Voicing our feelings lets us release those feelings from within; we can breathe a little deeper. In sharing, we recognize we are not alone—healing after loss is a part of life; suffering is a part of life; grief is a part of life.”

Here she takes a very personal experience (the death of her grandfather) and connects it to her time with the ill horses and then to the COVID-19 pandemic. This broad scope of inclusivity is meant to foster meaningful connections throughout her storytelling, giving readers something relatable to grasp while still accepting the heart of the writer’s story.

The Other Side of the Story

As Schurer leads readers to the end of her article, her microscopic storytelling lens is expanded to a macro-level view. She offers readers advice on how to cope with grief and loss. After all, she had already masterfully earned most readers’ trust and interest. The investment of connection pays off, for hopefully others will leave the article feeling something other than hopelessness.

As the climax fades in any good story, readers crave a satisfying ending. Storytellers can accomplish this by wrapping up the story with an actionable conclusion.

“The best way to purge some of this agony is to simply share it. Voicing our feelings lets us release those feelings from within; we can breathe a little deeper. In sharing, we recognize we are not alone—healing after loss is a part of life; suffering is a part of life; grief is a part of life. But we aren’t abandoned to this fate. We have someone sitting right across from us while we talk.”

With intricate sensory details, boundless vulnerability, authenticity, and connection, anything you write can leave an impression on readers and perhaps even change their lives for the better. You just have to be willing to go all in and hold nothing back, as Schurer’s article does so well.