In my second interview with a qualitative researcher, I delved into storytelling as a research methodology. I spoke with a family sociologist who has used collaborative storytelling methodology to understand various family phenomena. Interestingly, my interviewee expressed that he considers himself a storyteller in his personal life; he described it as a natural inclination, something that he engages in with family and friends. When the concept of storytelling began to gain prominence in academic research circles, he got drawn into the meaning behind the stories, why and how stories were told. Consequently, he said:
It [storytelling] became my work.
This work included refinement of the “collaborative storytelling methodology” in which the researcher attempts to reconstruct the nature of the researcher-participant relationship by actively engaging participants in the research process. The process he used involved the participants telling their stories (storytelling) while the researcher probed for untold parts of the stories, details that may be overlooked or left out, and ways to rethink and retell old, and sometimes, oft-told, well-known story lines (reflexive storytelling). After this process of exchange, he would craft a written story that not only represented the participant’s story but highlighted new ways of viewing and understanding the story. Ideally, the participant would then review this written story and further engage with the researcher to identify any issues and/or further develop the ideas, themes, characters, etc. However, my interviewee discovered that most participants were not interested in full engagement: once they told their stories, they were ready to move on. Participants were not interested in the tedious task of reviewing the written story. The interactive process of storytelling and probing was therapeutic for participants and once therapy was over, they wanted to leave the proverbial couch.
This got me thinking about how I am engaging with my storytelling participants. While I have tried to probe for some additional information as they tell their stories, I’m sure that it hasn’t been to the level dictated by reflexive storytelling. Furthermore, I had not planned on closing the loop by asking them to review and comment on the written product of our initial exchange. While this researcher found that his participants were not interested in this part of the process, I believe that my mine may be. My stories will be much shorter (his written stories were several pages long) and, to my knowledge, none of my story-collecting interactions thus far have been cathartic or therapeutic for the tellers. Instead, our exchanges seem to bring back memories that my participants enjoy reliving. The danger here, of course, is that if my re-telling of the story does not fully align with their original telling or memory, friction or tension may arise.
This brings me back to challenge of story-writing. I discussed this briefly with my interviewee. He acknowledged that the transition between oral storytelling and story-writing is indeed a difficult one. He had the following advice for me:
- Keep the messages singular
- Make the stories engaging and relatable
- Infuse the stories with something that teaches, informs, educates and/or entertains
Now, all that’s left is to put pen to paper and make it happen.