Have you ever narrated your relationships with other people?
We live in an age where Social Media is redefining loneliness. It used to be the label of friendless people. Today, a lot of lonely people are those who crave human connection and instead have many digital ones. Forlorn people are virtually an endangered species. When was the last time you saw an active Instagram account with no followers at all? Twitter? Facebook? Everyone can find digital connections. It’s easy.
But what about the human ones? What about the connections that matter in our immediate environment? We are bombarded by events, groups, chats, notifications, messages, and so on that it compromises the human relationships we work so hard to maintain.
A few days ago, I met with a friend whom I never met in real life before. We sat for two hours talking about writing, the future, and the challenges writers who can’t write for a living have to face to materialize their stories.
After the meeting ended, I went home feeling rejuvenated. The human aspect of sitting with someone, triggering the parts of your brain that focus on how they look, their intonation, their body language — all of those parts can’t be used in digital communications.
And so, given that we were talking about writing, an idea popped into my head: Why not stay on top of relationships with storytelling?
Storytelling Your Relationships Sharpens Your Voice
When you narrate a ‘scene’ that happened in real life, you have a point of reference and can go back in your memory to review what you wrote against what happened in reality.
You were there, you felt it, you can tell if what you wrote fits what you felt in reality. That isn’t a scene from one of your stories; that is a recount of an event from real life. It should be as honest as possible, and it’s your job to make sure it does.
Doing this many times and in many variations can sharpen your voice and easily narrate made-up scenes. Each time you narrate, it will be something else. Maybe one time it’s a bar, another time it’s someone’s house? The possibilities are endless.
You only have to choose and recount the event.
You Notice Bits Of Character Over Time
If you narrate your meetings with Jenny, you start to notice that Jenny has a habit of scratching her nose just before she’s about to say something embarrassing about herself and immediately giggle after saying it.
Your friend John has a habit of running his hand over his hair whenever he is worried about something.
Vanessa never told you her political views, but you can guess them from your narrations of her. The way she talks about the politicians on the news, the way she reacts to some ideas. Those are telling, and you notice them because you told your keyboard about her.
Brad only appears in one journaled meeting, and ever since that last time, he never bothered to answer or return countless calls and messages. Your story with Brad is coming to a close. So is your relationship with him.
These are things you may never notice about your friends if you only enjoy them in-the-moment.
You Deeply Appreciate Your Narrated Friends
When you narrate your friends and notice little bits about their character over time, you come to appreciate them deeply in an unusual way. You see all the little things about them, things they said casually, the things they don’t say.
You learn about them as human beings more than ever before. You redefine your relationship with them based on the narrative you have built. You understand now why they are aloof, detached, gloomy, exuberant, or whatever emotion your friend might be exhibiting right now.
It’s like writing a character without knowing its background story. As you continue writing and meeting with that person, you reveal more and more about them, and you know how to talk to them. You won’t have awkward silences because you know what to ask, what gets them talking. At least you think you do, and that allows you to casually develop a conversation in an honest bid to learn more about them.
And who doesn’t feel great when someone is so honestly interested in them?
You Get Better In Describing Humans
That is an excellent benefit because a lot of the time, we write cumbersome descriptions of people. For example, we might say: Jane had long thick auburn hair which seemed as though it wasn’t washed and combed in days instead of merely saying Jane’s red hair was a mess.
This elaborate description is something we do because we want to capture the image in our heads and correctly transfer it into our papers or computers. You realize you don’t care what Jane’s hair looked like in full detail in the long run. You only care about what she told you that day — that she was going to divorce her husband. That is why she looked so disheveled, but we didn’t need to know the perfect details of her split ends.
In the long run, describing your friends this way will allow you to write flowing descriptions of characters who feel so alive because you trained on live “characters.”
How To Get Started With This
Narrating your friends is not a complicated task, but it requires consistency like anything else worthwhile in this world.
It doesn’t matter if the friend you’re going to narrate is a childhood friend, someone completely new, or even a family member — You start to narrate everyone from the same starting point — the start of your life novel. And just like in a story, your characters — your real-life relationships — have lived their lives up to this point without your narration.
Find An Easy Writing Solution
Open a document or a note on your favorite platform. I would recommend something like Google Docs or the iPhone’s notes (which are backed up on the cloud. This isn’t something you want to leave without a backup).
It should also be easy to access on your phone, which you carry with you everywhere. Perhaps Google Keep? Evernote? Journey? There are many options to choose from. Choose what works for you and is easy to use.
Narrate Your Relationships Right After Your Interactions
Jane called you to ask for help with something. You don’t narrate your interaction with her as you speak with her. Wait until after the phone call ends with describing the interaction. Not waiting until you finished talking to her defeats the purpose of this entire exercise. You will not be 100% in-the-moment, and that will be disrespectful to her.
Write from a first-person perspective. That is easy if you keep a journal but remember that this isn’t your journal. It does not start with “dear diary…” You don’t ramble on about many things. You narrate a scene.
Do this right after you finish your interactions with people. Some details may slip away from your mind if you wait, and you want as crisp a memory as possible.
June 4th, 14:34. The phone rang while I was distractedly writing code at work. It was a call from Michael. We’re trying to meet for days, but he was preoccupied with falling into a hole in the ground and getting his foot twisted. I worried about him, and so the context-switch has been made. I answered the call, and we started talking. He asked about my flight to the USA. He wants me to pick up something for him while there. We tried to schedule a meeting. We said we’d decide tomorrow and ended the call.
I’m delighted that Michael is a part of my life. Looking back, I like his dedication to keeping in touch. When I don’t talk for a while because work overwhelms me, he makes an effort to call back, so our friendship endures.
Narrating Friendships Can Change Your Life
Once you pick up the habit of narrating your friendships, you will become deeply invested in those close-relationships you chose to describe.
I should also say something about the investment of time in this habit. If you narrate a phone call, that’s a minute or two of writing once the phone call ends. But what about a night out with friends? You later need to narrate your three and a half hours or more with them. That effort will surely take more than a minute or two.
But you do it anyway. You do it because you love your friends. When your other ‘friends’ don’t reciprocate, that is a lesson for you as well. You invest time only in what matters. You begin to learn that not all friendships are worth keeping. Some people are toxic, and some don’t care as much as you do. You quickly discover those facts through your writing of their interactions with you. You soon begin to understand human beings on a whole new level.
I hope you’ll try this idea out and let me know how it works for you. It’s been true enlightenment to me so far. I’ve started investing in friendships I wasn’t seeing earlier and backed away from people who consumed my time, all the while improving my skill in writing.
At the very least, someday, when I’m 80 years old, I’ll have a book of memoirs from the theatrical points in my life. I hope you will, too.