He squished them like peaches. Yeah, he liked those. Squished peaches. Especially the fresh ones. That sound! So pleasing to the ears. The thought of peaches made him hungry. He finished his job, put back his tools in the bag and walked out of the deserted alleyway, the starless night rendering him almost invisible. They’ll know soon, he thought, a smirk lighting up his handsome face.
The classic in medias res technique introduced by, well, classicists isn’t an unfamiliar term for most readers. “The middle is the beginning” is an adage that most story-writers love ranting off. So, who is squishing what like peaches? What tools did he just put back? Why the deserted alleyway, and why the smirk at the the thought of people knowing? And knowing what? A quintessential reader would have all these questions popping up the minute s/he reads the above lines, and reading the story would then becomes a quest to find answers. Now, if one was to blandly start off with a factual account of the psychopathic doctor-cum-serial killer that my protagonist is (insert a delayed spoiler alert here and hope to not be killed by fellow readers) instead of plunging right into the middle of a scene, the reading process would probably not be as gratifying with no questions waiting to be answered at the end . That is what story-writing is in a nutshell; a bunch of techniques to ensure the reader actually makes it to the end of a story.
But reader, don’t be confused; it really isn’t all that simple, as you might point out. Everything iterated above is precisely everything that the Art of Storytelling is not. Yes, engaging the reader is an art, but it certainly isn’t a mere assortment of some rote-learned techniques. Art goes much deeper, much beyond the realm of such simplistic, superficial explications. And, it definitely transcends the framework of a five-hundred-word essay. The attempt here is just to make an abstraction, a minuscule step into the limitless world of story-telling.
The Art of Storytelling, to reiterate a much-heard cliché, is about bringing characters to life, to give form and voice to abstract entities. It is about inciting belief in a parallel, non-existent universe, however ludicruous and impobable it may seem. Indeed, a bunch of teenagers zooming around on brooms chasing a golden ball with wings doesn’t sound like a sane man’s game, yet Rowling makes the Quidditch matches almost as nail-biting as The ICC Cricket World Cup in her books.
However, belief, again, just scrapes the surface of what stories do. They humanize their world and their characters, so much so that the reader becomes emotionally entangled with them. You aren’t a true reader if you have never fallen in love with a fictional character, despite being cognizant of their non-existence. Now, that is what true art is; it is not just about making one believe in impalpable characters, it is about having one empathise with them, to feel what they feel and live what they are living. The power of the art manifests itself in this inexplicable intimacy between the reader and the characters. It is this power that makes us cry for a mother who has killed her own infant in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, or sympathise with a rebellious, cynical and seemingly obnoxious teenager in J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.
Yes, reader (hoping the Jane Eyre-ian style is evident enough here), the aforementioned five-hundred-word limit has been crossed, but this only further corroborates the statement that the true art of story-telling transcends an expression in words (did someone say paradox?). At the risk of sounding philosophical, one can conclude that storytelling as an art is something to be felt and lived, and the reader is as much an active participant in the form as the writer.