To tell a story is to first listen to the story told
Serendipity is often the spark of a new story to be told. Whether by chance or by persistence, being presented with a story can be mundane in its frequency but exhilarating in its potential. The first and most important question you should ask is: "what is this story about?". A casual probe may do nothing more in most cases, but in a few, it is the first step down a rabbit hole. In the moments where the storyteller is the person in front of me, I heed the advice of those wiser than I – to listen actively so as to not let an opportunity slip past. Of all people, I understand the efforts required to tell a story.
My respect for the storyteller is represented by the questions I ask, and so I am often rewarded with more tantalising details - those deemed unworthy by the storyteller for the casual listeners. Through this access, my perspective is broadened. Sometimes this can be on a personal level, such as one's struggle with loneliness and death, and sometimes this can be on a global level, such as the state of Pakistan and the heart of her people. Active listening does not just reward me with information. The term ‘active’ demands that I pay attention, and in return, receive a heightened sense of subtlety. Words can be transcribed into a script, but emotions – those can only be felt in the moments.
It is worth pointing out that this occurs before any cameras are rolling – in fact, most of this occurs during the first or second meeting, when the making of a documentary isn’t even on the table. The prospect of what the future brings from a conversation in the present is a non-factor when deciding how much attention to pay to it – for that is not the goal, even if the conversation was initiated with such an intent. In the moment of conversing, attention is often rewarded with valuable insight – observations that inform better questions, and therefore invites deeper answers. There are things to be gained in the present, so why be distracted by the future?
After such conversations, some may honour me by passing the baton over to me to tell their stories. This shows that I have been accepted by the storyteller as one who understands him/her. “I understand” is a statement that is often said, though few can actually prove it. – and it is never the listener that has the right to confer the status.
Wielding this baton is to acknowledge the responsibility (and burden) of telling a story my way. This experience is akin to possessing a once blank canvas that had been scribbled with narratives from past and present. Now, I add my voice to this canvas, but for it to be worthy of both its own existence and the attention of others, I have to make the efforts required to tell the story.
I do not convey a story in the manner in which I received it. It is limiting to contain one’s storytelling capabilities based on how the story was received. It is also foolish and ignorant to think that one can deliver the story in the exact manner as it was once told and expect a better result – often times the opposite is true.
I have talked briefly about how I tell stories. But it is pertinent to remember that with all stories told, it begins with listening actively.