I know what conventional wisdom says is the oldest profession in the world, but I simply don’t agree. I think storytellers have that spot, and I think history will back me up on that. Before there was paper and ink, or even commerce routes and trading posts, there were stories.

Oral tradition is as old as hunting and gathering. We’ve been endowed by our storytelling Creator to respond to Story as an art form that transcends art. Story is more than just “Once upon a time, something happened, and they lived happily ever after.” Story allows us to interpret life; record-keeping just observes it. Story lets us pass on what we learn to the next generation. And so on, and so on. It’s the “something happened” part that is the heart of story, not the “Once upon a time” part.


A few months from now I will join other storytellers (novelists like me: Mary DeMuth, Jenny B Jones, Nicole Seitz, and Lisa Wingate) at a Proverbs 31 SheSpeaks pre-conference offering to help women of faith and influence hone their storytelling skills. I can’t wait to get there. Story is the heart of communication. We haven’t all had the same experiences in life, but we can all imagine the same experience and learn from it if there is a storyteller to guide us. 


I’ve asked Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon, the engineers behind this pre-conference storytelling track, to join me here on Edgewise to chat about this very thing. Marybeth and Ariel are gifted novelists as well as part of the conference design team and founders of the SheReads component of P31.


EDGEWISE: You both are devotees (as I am) of the power of Story to communicate truth. I am often asked why that it is so. Why do you think Story speaks to us in a different way that mere exposition?

Marybeth Whalen


MARYBETH: In some cases I think story can tell a less imposing, more clear explanation of a topic than non-fiction. I once read a quote that basically said that truth coming from our characters’ mouths is so much more powerful than truth coming from our (the writers) mouths. And I think that’s true. To witness a character going through the full range of a story is so compelling– we are drawn to the journey with them. I have heard people say “Oh I don’t read fiction. It’s a waste of my time.” That makes me sad for them. They are missing the power of a well-told story.

ARIEL: There is an old Jewish saying that goes, “What is truer than truth? The story.” I think the power behind story comes from the fact that it is disarming. It sneaks up on you and then lingers. Because stories are so emotional, we take ownership of them.

EDGEWISE: Does the nonfiction author need to know the anatomy of a great story? How come?
MARYBETH: I think that whether we’re writing fiction, nonfiction or speaking, we’re obligated to tell our stories in a way that is compelling and engaging. When we know the proper elements we can make it more so. Do they have to? No. But their writing will be more powerful when they do.
Ariel Lawhon

ARIEL: I think that anyone who communicates for a living needs to understand the anatomy of a story. To grow an idea from beginning to end, there are a minimum of seven steps: Weakness/Need, Desire, Opponent, Plan, Battle, Self-Revelation, and New Equilibrium. Even thirty-second commercials follow this structure. Whether you tell the story in front of an audience, in a novel, or a work of non-fiction these steps don’t change. We often hit them without even realizing it but when used intentionally, they become the storytellers’ most powerful tool.

EDGEWISE: What has Story taught you about life and life’s purpose?
MARYBETH: I want my life to tell a great story – one full of tension that includes overcoming obstacles. And yet the obstacles and tension are the very things I shy away from. Learning about the elements of a great story has made me realize that my full and complete “character arc” can’t be accomplished if all the elements are not there. It’s made me see that God’s writing a great story through my life and I need to just go with the flow of my personal story and not resist out of fear.

ARIEL: Story has taught me that “the middle” is the hardest part of life. I know where I came from and I know where I’ll end up, but it’s right here – in the tension of now – that things are hardest. All I can do is slow down and enjoy the story.

EDGEWISE: What prompted you to include this component into the SheSpeaks experience?
MARYBETH: As fiction writers, we see what power story brings to any audience. If you go hear a speaker, you will often come away unable to repeat the three points that speaker made, but you will almost always be able to repeat the story they told. I believe our brains are hard-wired to connect through story. Jesus knew this because He is our Creator. He made use of it and we want to more effectively as well.

ARIEL: I think the one thing we fail to tell aspiring writers is that there is a huge difference between Writing and Story. They are different art forms and we must master them both. We wanted to offer a storytelling track at She Speaks specifically to explore the art of Story – what you say, not how you say it. Writers conferences abound. Storytelling conferences? Not so much.

EDGEWISE: What are you hoping women who attend this pre-conference treat will come away with?
MARYBETH: Inspiration and encouragement to pursue their unique writing/speaking calling. We have gathered the best fiction writers to impart the strongest teaching and make this time worth their valuable time.

ARIEL: Story is the shortest distance to the human heart. I’d love to see these women moved and inspired not only to become better storytellers, but to live a better story. 

EDGEWISE: Thanks, gals, for stopping by. Dear reader, the first 50 spots at this pre-conference track were filled before it was even fully advertised. An instant waiting list prompted organizers to get a bigger room and expand the enrollment capabilities to 100 but those spots are expected to fill fast. If you have a speaking or writing ministry and are wondering which conference to go to this year, may I recommend SheSpeaks? It’s a great conference, and not just because the value of Story is known there! The dates are July 22-24. All the info is on the p31 website. Hope to see you in North Carolina this summer. 


See you on Friday. . .


Author: Susan

This post has 4 Comments

  1. Marybeth on March 29, 2011 at 1:41 am

    So fun to see this interview up Susan! I am so excited to have you there this summer. We're going to have fun!

  2. Ariel Allison Lawhon on March 29, 2011 at 1:41 am

    Thanks for having us here, Suze! I truly hope some of your readers consider attending She Speaks this year, and our pre-conference track in particular. We would love to meet them!

  3. Susan Meissner on March 29, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Can't wait. . .

  4. HopefulLeigh on March 29, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    I just signed up for She Speaks over the weekend. Really looking forward to the writer track…and hopefully meeting you!

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