Stories from the Pandemic – Part 3

Story Power author Kate Farrell has posted the third installation of her “Stories From The Pandemic” series, read the new story here.

Stories from the Pandemic – 3

When the Covid-19 lockdown hit, most of us were caught unawares. It turned our normal routines upside down. Each day brought new challenges and adaptations—a surreal way of life fraught with social isolation, even fear of survival.

The world as we knew it changed radically in San Francisco in early March. All live performances were cancelled; stores and businesses closed; the city streets emptied. Those most at risk were literally housebound—told to shelter in place to protect against an unseen contagion.

In December 2019, I had just moved to a studio apartment in downtown San Francisco, excited to live within walking distance of the Mechanics Institute Library and the Writers Grotto. By January, I’d joined and attended stimulating author events at Mechanics and a Write-In at the Grotto. The amazing San Francisco Writers Conference in February was a short streetcar ride, down Market Street.

More importantly, I’d scheduled storytelling workshops at San Francisco Public Library branches and held a successful one in January at West Portal Library to kick off pre-pub promotion for my forthcoming book, Story Power. But in March, all my scheduled workshops were cancelled and the possibility of booking any more vanished.

Storytelling, a live performing art, no longer had access to live audiences.

How could it adapt to a virtual world? By April, many literary events and venues took to Zoom, Facebook, with live streaming on YouTube. Storytelling was an early adopter and continues to reach many live virtual audiences with an even wider reach for both talent and listeners.

Yet the techniques of an effective storyteller changed slightly. Now more than ever, the inner concentration of the teller became essential, the ability to visualize every detail and action of the story as it’s being told.

In Part One and Two of Stories from the Pandemic, we’ve looked at selecting a story and framing a story, using keywords and images.

In Part Three, we’ll look at the vital role that visualizing plays in convincing and engaging an audience.

Visualize the Settings and Characters: Put the graphic organizer or index cards aside and close your eyes. Imagine each setting as if it were a movie set. Forget the plot for a moment and look around your story’s environment. Notice small details. See color and light. You are invisible on the set. All your senses function except your hearing. For now, the imaginary world of your story is silent.

This exercise calls upon your powers of concentrations and may produce sketchy results at first. But stay with it. If you can see only a few sensory details, try to sustain them as long as you are able. With practice, you’ll be able to step into its atmosphere after a rain storm, for example: feel the slippery, wet grass; smell the distant rain; feel the damp chill on your skin; pick the battered rose in the garden, or taste the tangy bite of a fallen apple.

Now that you have a good mental picture of the setting, add the characters and their habits. See their mouths move as they talk, make facial expressions, and hand gestures. Notice their clothes, their coloring, the expression in their eyes, how they move. With this step, you have built and populated the world of the story with your accurate memory and focused imagination.

When you tell the story aloud, use your voice to project the images you’ve visualized.

How to visualize a story to tell, using “Lunch in South Park”  as a model.

Once I created the outline of my five-minute story from the pandemic, I put the notes aside and closed my eyes. I saw the action of the story take place like a silent movie. If I needed to remind myself of the next scene, I could peek.

“Lunch in South Park”

1. Early May, my son cut his South American trip short; he quarantined, and then took the ferry from the East Bay to SF to deliver disinfectant cleaners. Met outside the apartment building, without masks; left a bag 10 ft away by the door, and air-hugged, left. Cautious, tentative, worried.

2. Mother’s Day lunch postponed due to rain; later, we met and walked to South Park, a few blocks away—a landscaped oval space built around townhouses in 1855—ordered melted cheese in separate boxes, sat at different park cafe tables in the drizzle, ten feet apart, while the only other people in the park, construction workers in bright yellow vests, sat 4 to a larger table. My son wore his black leather jacket, rode over the Bay Bridge on his motorcycle, looked stern, forbidding, untouchable. I wondered at his insistence to go the extra mile, or feet apart.

3. Mid-June: Met in South Park, at a new take-out, a Latino cafe, sat at two different outdoor dining tables—my son in the street and I on the sidewalk—left to sit in park across the sidewalk from one another, while people walked their dogs between us, talked for hours. Untouchable. I felt suppressed or amused at his odd, unbending discipline.

4. Early July: Met in South Park, for the last time, since he was going on a bicycle tour; take out at the melted cheese, sat at a red picnic table in front of restaurant on either end, not facing each other directly. While saying goodbye where he’d parked his motorcycle in South Park, he suddenly reached out, and gave me a quick, impulsive hug.

5. What I came to realize was that every inch of the space between us during these visits, was filled with his care, his protection. No matter how many inches, feet, miles, or continents are between us, they are filled with our caring love.


Story Power by Kate Farrell

Story power

Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories

Stories are everywhere. The art of storytelling has been around as long as humans have. And in today’s noisy, techy, automated world, storytelling is not only prevalent—it’s vital. Whether you’re interested in enlivening conversation, building your business brand, sharing family wisdom, or performing on stage, Story Power will show you how to make use of a good story.