Windows on Storytelling

Through his engaging clarity of vision, Karino C Emmanuel encourages us to select an appropriate focus in our own story telling, expressing it all in the wonderful rhythms of the English of his homeland, Kenya.

 “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” Orson Welles.

Days after I had sent out my first proper short story for feedback, I couldn’t stop obsessing over it, so I decided to go for a walk to unwind, but still keep my eyes open for anything as there’s never nothing for a writer.

On the street, the first thing that drew my attention was the orifice of a disconnected pipe from which water was streaming, some being swallowed by the hungry earth while some following a bunch of courses before disappearing into a gutter. Having grappled with the structure of my short story for the better part of the months it has been in the works, I likened it to this water whose flow was all over the place. This got me thinking: water is like a story, almost always available, searching for something to hold it.

Walking further down the street, people’s lives unfolded before mine as my eyes flitted about, capturing in real time, bits and pieces of these fleeting moments, and setting the stationary into motion: a politician talking to a crowd, the crowd clapping, the clouds scudding, an old beggar pacing the pavement, a street woman seated on a bench sniffing glue from a dirty bottle… The thing about open eyes is that they see everything on their path and beyond. In this open space, many interesting things were happening all at once, too many for my mind to bear. In this moment, it was as though I was trying to tell the story of an entire street from an undefined perspective, something that was proving to be quite an art, impossible even. This was pretty much the same problem my short story was suffering.

Back in the house, I kept staring at the street, searching for answers. Through the first window, I saw the politician still talking to his supporters. At the opposite window, I stepped three steps back to see a more narrowed view of the street woman rooted on the bench. It seemed like she was entrusting me with her story. Made possible by the increased distance and the obstructed view of the other events happening on the street, an umbrella of silence covering her sparked my imagination. Now if I wanted to, I could finally tell the story of the street from her perspective.

Standing by the kitchen sink, I gazed at the tap which had gone dry three days before. I turned on the faucet and water frothed at its mouth, spurted a moment, then started running smoothly, rounding off this epiphany. In this contained space, I had the power to control its flow, direct it to any of the containers around, watch it take their different forms. There was water and a container(s) at hand, looked into figuratively, a story and its possible structure(s). This renewed the possibility of what my short story could become. I had a clear picture of how I was going to rewrite it, a sense of how its pieces would fit together.

Even as I wait for feedback, I have sort of created a tiny window inside my mind. While revising, I’m putting together only the pieces worth this view and for this, my short story reads much better. Come to think of it, we’re all looking for a window to see our stories through, without which, we end up with fuzzy ideas.

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    • Thank you so much, Nyawate. That’s kind of you, and it fills my heart with joy.

      Not yet. I always think writing for children is like teaching a kindergarten class: not everyone can do it because it’s always easy to write for people whose minds are fully formed. I have massive respect for someone who can enter a child’s head, see, feel, and speak about stuff the exact way children do. The best most of us can do is write for children from someone else’s perspective. But again, every day is an opportunity to acquire new skills and to understand humans better, so you can never say never.


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