Stories are like dehydrated onions – a dried out experience. They are not the original experience but they are much more than nothing at all. You think about a story, you turn it over in your mind, and it becomes something else.
So add hot water. It’s not fresh onion – fresh experience – but it is something that can help us recognise experience when you come across it. Experiences follow patterns, which repeat themselves again and again...
Stories can help you recognise the shape of an experience, to make sense of and deal with it. So you see what you may take for mere snippets of myth and legend encapsulate what you need to know to guide you on your way....
When I tell people that I write stories for therapeutic use, their eyes become glazed. The more curious will ask questions but whether because I fail to explain adequately or because it is an alien concept, I seldom get the idea that the person I’m talking to is convinced of the value of stories. Yet, if I ask you what story or stories, meant a lot to you as a child, you can probably, after some thought, identify one or two. If you ask yourself what the themes of that story are and whether those themes resonate with your life now, as an adult, there is a good chance they will. You might even have been influenced by a story or a book and you wouldn't be the first person to realise that. So stories can be very significant.
I have talked to people who say that a particular book, tale, or someone’s life story, have changed their own lives. You only have to watch a child taking on the persona of some super hero to realise that stories, when they harness our imagination, allow us to explore new possibilities, new behaviours – new ways of being in the world. It is precisely because stories get under our skin and creep into our unconscious minds unannounced and in a subtle way, that we rarely notice them. You see, stories are everywhere.
Fables are a really good starting point if you want to learn to tell stories, or indeed if you prefer to be a writer and want to learn how to handle a plot well and imaginatively. The fables presented here are for re-telling, whether out loud or on the page. This downloadable document is written so that younger writers who want to play with and explore fables imaginatively (and perhaps even enter an Imaginary Journeys story competition) can make use of most of it as much as the many adults who are interested in stories and storytelling.
There are various kinds of story here, from ancient tales that will match most people’s ideas of what fables are to modern yarns that probably don’t. All of them can be re-shaped in your own way – you can make your own unusual versions, perhaps using the characters and setting as given here, but inventing all sorts of interesting details, perhaps making entirely different stories in ancient or modern or even futuristic and fantasy settings. You’ll find some tips below to help you to do that, but first a few general points.
What are fables?
People have been telling fables for centuries. Some reckon that a fable has to be about animals that can talk, or maybe things like stones or trees or swords or spoons behaving like human beings. It’s true that some of the oldest stories we know about are ‘beast fables’ – stories where animals have conversations and so on; well known ancient collections of fables like those of Aesop or perhaps the Indian Panchantantra have lots of stories of jackals and rabbits and foxes and goats and all sorts. It’s also true that there are fables from all sorts of countries where the characters are anything from a brick to a meatball. But there are also lots of stories about people that are called fables too. Confusing, isn’t it? Actually, the word fable has been used in quite a lot of different ways over the centuries. If you look in old dictionaries, you will find that at one time, if someone told you that you were ‘telling fables’, they’d have meant that you were simply lying! And that is odd really, because these days we mostly think of fables as being stories that mean something and maybe help you to see the truth better – they have a point if you like, even if what happens in them doesn’t seem exactly likely. Some people even think that you always have to have a moral spelled out at the end of your fable – ‘liars will never be believed’, ‘don’t go round being nasty to people if you want them to be nice to you’ and so on. But spelling out morals tends to spoil a story,suggesting that it means just one thing or worse, giving the feeling that a story is like some kind of medicine that’s ‘good for you’. The best fables can mean quite a lot of different things; they could make you think and imagine in all sorts of new ways if you let them. So let’s say instead that a fable is a story that shows you something, that has a bit of a point to it (or several points) and leave it at that. Except to say also that fables can be a lot of fun too, because there are so many ways to tell old ones and invent new ones. In a world where anything can talk and have adventures, you never know quite what is going to happen next – and you can also make all sorts of unusual things happen.
Pat Williams, one of the original Human Givens teachers who taught us all of the power of stories – to be spoken and not read.
Tahir Shah, his son
Rob Parkinson, also Human Givens and a writer and proselytizer of stories.
"No, no!" said the Queen. "Sentence first - verdict afterwards.”