narrative & storytelling

I have a vast number of coats. I don’t quite know what the average number to own is, but I really don’t think it’s necessary to have too many. And I do have too many.

They are practical – they keep you warm, and generally last a long time – yet we insist on buying a new one each year. For some of us, this is because the seasons in fashion come and go, and with that, so do the latest trends. For others, it’s because our coats have genuinely been so worn, that they are actually in too much of a sorry state to continue wearing, and for others, it’s because we have simply grown out of them.

But what about those coats we keep despite any of the above-mentioned points? Why do we not get rid of them?

One of mine is possibly a little too short for me in the arms (I think it shrank in the wash..). It is also covered in little bobbles that I seem to pick off every time I wear it, which therefore means parts of it are patchy and very worn down. It also has a rip in the arm. This is not sounding very attractive is it?

So why have I kept it? And more importantly, why do I still wear it?

The simple answer: because it has too many stories attached to it, I just can’t let it go. I have had it for at least three years, it has been with me on many journeys – most memorable of all, my trip to New York. So many things about it just remind me of certain times in my life, and I’m not quite sure I’m ready to let it go.

It is evident from my blog that I am interested in nostalgia, but you might be thinking ‘hasn’t she written about this before? She’s just using a different example?’

Well.. there are countless examples of how nostalgia feeds into our lives and yes, this is one of them. But while I can come up with different ones all the time, there is still so much else to say on the subject of nostalgia – examples aside.

Stories. Narration. Storytelling. These help feed our need to cling onto memories. And objects.

There are huge numbers of places we can look for theories and studies on narrative structure – so many books and online journals and articles. I did a lot of research on this for my dissertation and found a simple narrative structure diagram perfectly depicting how a story travels and is spread between people in various ways from the author to the reader.

It is too complex to go into now – but if it interests you at all I’d urge you to look at a book called ‘Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics’ by Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan.

In basic terms, it shows the effect of storytelling on all people involved and how what is said and what is heard, can be interpreted in different ways or using different words with the same outcome at the end.

What does this have to do with a coat? The link doesn’t seem obvious does it?

Stories are told about objects. They are attached to objects. When I tell people that my coat came with me to all these different places and I love it because it carries memories with it, a different meaning is then transferred to them about my coat. A coat that they have no connection to. They would then look at my coat and see not just a coat, but an object I am very fond of because it has real meaning to me.

This is better explained when you use an item of furniture for example. Something that has been passed down through the family and something that holds real meaning to everyone within the family. As it is passed down, stories will be passed on – about how that scratch got there, or why the leg of this chair had to be replaced, or any funny antics about the past owners – and suddenly, we go from being the ‘readers’ of a story, to the ‘narrators’. We adopt a further passion for something we know has a story attached to it – even if that story or event happened in a time before we were alive.

Yes, for me it might be a story or two attached to an item of clothing – but I wonder how many of those stories I can pass on to people about just a coat?  And how many of those people might tell the story in the future?

You never know what will become important and personal to people in the future – so be attached to objects, and spread the stories you have of each item. It might really mean something to someone one day…

narrative fiction


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