You Should Try A Story Night With Your Family

Rachel stood by the Audi watching Raylan, Raylan the show. Watching him facing Coover holding the bright-metal piece at his leg. Watched Coover swing the rat by the tail and let it go and saw it coming at her to land on the hood of the Audi. Rachel didn't move. Raylan didn't either, didn't glance around. 
But said, "Coover, you throw a dead rat at my car. What're you trying to tell me?" 
Rachel unsnapped the holster riding on her hip. 
Coover said, "Take it any way you want, long as you know I'm serious." 
"You're telling me you're one mean son of a bitch," Raylan said to his face. "You know how many wanted felons have given me that look? I say a thousand I know I'm low. Some turn ugly as I snap on the cuffs; they're too late. Some others, I swear, even try to draw down on me. All I'm asking, how'd you come to take Angel's kidneys?"

The world of Elmore Leonard is as rich in characters and story as it is witty dialogue. I settled on this classic from his novel Raylan because I read it in January. You may be familiar with it because FX created the TV series called Justified based on his main character, Raylan Givens. 

Leonard was a master at dialogue. He had a way of making you forget you were reading. It's easy to spend three hours turning pages right in the middle of the action without noticing.  

Good writing does that to you. It pulls you in and doesn't let go. I haven't particularly enjoyed reading fiction for most of my life. I considered myself far too serious a person to waste my time on silly fiction. 

Then at the tender age of twenty-eight Lee Child and his iconic character, Jack Reacher came into my life. Here was a larger than life character that reminded me of my uncle George, right down to the former Army MP background. It grabbed me by the throat and pulled me into the world I'd long abandoned. 

I read over 30 fiction books that year. I was back in the fiction reading business. I've sought to make up for lost time since turning the page on my first Reacher novel two years ago. From The Hobbit to Harry Potter I've been swimming in the seas of tall tales and loving every second of it. It's brought color and light to my reading life, where once were only the dreary shadows of the real world. 

It's all about storytelling for me. I enjoy getting lost in the sights, sounds, and memories of another. Be it a novel, short story or fireside chat, storytelling is a tradition we've lost touch with over the years. 

How often to we gather around the living room for no other purpose but the telling of stories? We're usually talking over one another and half listening as we go. That's why I'm especially grateful for a tradition Hannah's family started this past year called Story Night. 

It's exactly what you're picturing. After dinner, we'll gather around with coffee, water or hot tea and take turns telling tales. This isn't the free for all you're most likely picturing. It's an ordered process designed to help us learn to not simply to tell good stories, but to listen.  

Here are the ground rules: 

1.) Participation is voluntary - If someone doesn't want to share a story, they're welcome to skip doing so.  
2.) The speaker has the floor - Whoever is talking has the floor, no exceptions. They have 5-10 mins of uninterrupted time to share their story. It can be a story they've prepared, a song, or a tale from their childhood. What matters is that while they are talking, no one else may jump in. 
3.) Questions are welcome - After the storyteller has completed their turn, others in the room can ask as many questions as they want. Sometimes this time is even better than the stories. You get to hear all the behind the details on how they chose their topic and why. 
Story Night is one of my favorite nights. Sometimes I read something I've written and other times I don't prepare anything at all. It's a beautiful tradition full of fun, and laughter that I can't get enough of.