The Story Beneath The Story – Yours Comes First


When I was a pre-teen in the awful throes of adolescence, I was struggling with massive insecurities and a bad case of hero worship that was focused on the most despicable juvenile delinquent soon-to-be-criminal in my school – Johnny D. And when I witnessed Johnny D. verbally rip his mother to shreds over the most benign request she made … I was impressed and inspired. So inspired that I determined to try it out on my mom. The result? Disaster. Not only did I wobble in the face of my own manufactured anger, but I crumbled and collapsed at the look of horror on my mother’s face and then crawled into a dark hole somewhere deep in my adolescent abyss when my father said, “Don’t you ever talk to your mother that way.”

So, the story above, as written, is about a shy, insecure young boy who witnessed a friend berate his mother, then goes home to try the same behavior on his own mother and fails, crawling away with this tail between his legs. If that was a film, that is what we would see. But what is the real story? What is the story beneath the story? And even before we attempt to reveal that story, I am very clear on the fact that at this point, as you read this story, you are having some strong feelings about what was really going on inside the main character, me, and even all the other characters. If there is any aspect of you that is open, curious, available, vulnerable, compassionate or concerned, you will feel what is going on inside this story. And what you feel will be right and accurate – for you. Another reader of this story is going to feel something slightly different – but accurate for her. So, who’s right? Well, you’re both right and you’re both wrong.

What we are facing here is the fact of projection. Each and every one of us, when we read a story, hear a story, see a story or even tell a story, project ourselves into that story. We experience that story through our own life filter. And whatever we don’t understand or areas where we are seeking deeper meaning, we fill in those gaps instantaneously from our own life experiences. We fill them with our own beliefs, desires, dreads and dreams. There is a part of us that is so intent upon experiencing this story fully, deeply and personally that we inject ourselves into each and every character and live within them.

This fact is one of the most powerful tools of storytelling. As storytellers, we rely on it, count on it. We know it is this personal projection that will keep every individual engaged. But we also know that we need to create a sub-textual story, the story beneath the story, with as much richness and authenticity as we can in order to create an emotional environment that invites and stimulates the deepest personal projection we can from every viewer, listener, reader.

Tomorrow we’ll talk more about “Shy Boy Berates Innocent Mom” story. Meanwhile, I would love to hear any of your thoughts, ideas (projections) on what this story is really all about!

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2 Responses to The Story Beneath The Story – Yours Comes First

  1. Hmmmm, “shy boy berates innocent mom”? I’m thinking boy doesn’t like being shy and wants to break out of that old mold. But I’m wondering, is mom really innocent? Having been thrust into the step-parent role, I know I’ve done a couple things out of self-preservation and was not being innocent at all. Great post, I’m looking forward to the next one. Thanks Mark!

  2. markwtravis says:

    Thanks, Rachel. Truth: Mom was totally innocent, especially in that moment. Shy boy was way out of line. But Dad, more concerned about Mom than what was bothering the Boy.

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