THE ART OF STORYTELLING

by Farrah Chaudhry, Instructional Systems Designer


The power of storytelling

Storytelling is a powerful tool for emotionally engaging audiences and delivering strong and complex messages. It’s a tool that plays a fundamental part in learning. Not only does our Learning Designer, Farrah Chaudhry create client learning programmes, she also writes stories for soap operas and plays. Here she tells us more about writing stories that make a real impact.

As a writer, I am constantly being asked where I find my stories. Well, stories are everywhere. We live them, see them, hear them and experience them. A writer’s job, is to take these stories and hold them up for everyone to see, a mirror for us to look at the way we are, examine the human condition, why we behave the way that we do.


Creating stories with impact

We then take these stories that we may have read in the papers, seen happening to a relative, happened to ourselves years ago etc., add some other detail, this perhaps we might make up or get from another story we know. We then add a structure, a beginning, middle and end. And give the stories and characters emotional truth, the believability that these stories are happening around us and they’re not just inside some writer’s head.

 

Everything that I have ever written, I have tried to write with emotional truth, a truth that connects to people. My task for my new play, Cordelia, one half of the double bill Lear/Cordelia, a radical reworking of Shakespeare’s King Lear, was to give Cordelia – who is fairly absent in King Lear – a voice.

I took all the things she stood for, her bravery, her courage and her integrity. I placed her in the world that we, as a theatre company, had created – where she’s a leftie junior doctor in France, who’s come home to the UK to help her father, Lear, an ex Tory cabinet member, move into his care home post his dementia diagnosis.

My next job was to build these two characters into three dimensional people with feelings. Lear, I knew quite well. Shakespeare’s given us a breadth of detail, so it was mainly Cordelia I had to flesh out so that I could get to know her, understand her dreams, her fears; her relationship with her father, with her job, with her duties as a daughter and her duties as a doctor.

I started writing short monologues and musings, just for myself, just in a notebook, the things she’d say if she was having dinner with Lear (and her sisters too, they have had a big impact on how she’s turned out), the things she’d do in a moment of crisis, how she felt when she became a doctor, how she may react to someone asking her out on a date, really small, silly things. But all things that would turn her into a real person, so that I could then attempt to articulate her words and sentences. I also did some research on the different forms of dementia that Lear has and looked into how it may affect his life and his relationships.


Drawing on first-hand experience

My grandparents had dementia, so I drew first-hand experience from this. I tapped into the different layers of information I had, and overlaid it with the Lear we know, the stubborn, arrogant, ruthless man that Shakespeare depicts so well.

If we add the fact that he’s an ex Tory cabinet member too, we have a really interesting set up, especially when you throw both him and Cordelia in a room together.

That’s where my idea to have my entire 45-minute piece in closed time/closed space came from (real time and all in one location). I wanted the tension of these two people bubbling away throughout, increasing as the play went on.

 

I wanted the audience to feel – in real time – with the characters, with no time away, no scenes where time had passed, all in the moment, right now; as if the audience were flies on a wall in this living room. Feeling the emotions with both Lear and Cordelia.


The story is the backbone of writing

As with any story, you’ve got to give each character a goal, and then place hurdles in their way. So by giving them opposing goals, they’re both pulling in opposite directions and this makes for great conflict between the characters, increasing tension and resulting in a climax and resolution – the basic formula to any play. After deciding the emotional action of the piece, and where each character was headed, the dialogue came naturally. It’s like the characters just started speaking for themselves.

The story is the backbone of any piece of writing, once you have that, the other pieces of the puzzle just fall into place.

Farrah’s latest work Lear Cordelia was performed live on stage and can be seen via the online video stream. You can also follow the play on Twitter #LearCordelia