Be a Real Southern Man #14

Welcome to your virtual manual for becoming a Real Southern Man.

Today’s how-to tip is one that we hold especially dear here at RSM. In fact, there wouldn’t be an RSM if it weren’t for this particular Southern tradition. The nice thing about it is that, with a little practice, anyone can do it, from the little tow-headed kid who can’t even spell his name to the addled senior who can’t remember his, from the college-educated to the high school dropout. It’s something we do not for profit or any particular purpose, but just because we do, because we have to. It hangs in the thick, muggy air, digs deep into the red soil and swings with the sway of the pines. It’s who we are.

This week, we think you should…

Tell a good story.

You don’t have to be Harper Lee or Rick Bragg, Jerry Clower or Andy Griffith. Anybody can tell a good story. Well, any Southerner can. Here are a few pointers to get you started:

1. Place matters. Where would Tom Sawyer be without the Mighty Mississip’ or Forrest Gump without Greenbow, Alabama? This particular RSM majored in film and minored in Geography, because I always believed this point to be true. Cultural geography is the study of how people shape the land – and how the land shapes the people. Whether it be a pontoon boat on Lake Lanier or an abandoned cotton warehouse in Wilmington, NC, give your story a sense of place.

2. Don’t be stingy on the details. Southerners love nothing more than a good descriptive. It’s not enough to talk about the Sunday afternoon dinner on the grounds. We need to know what kind of blueberries – fresh or canned – Miss Martha put in her cobbler. And while most writing professors will tell you to go easy on the adjectives and adverbs, we’ll only say this: use them judiciously.

3. If it ain’t hyperbole, it ain’t Southern. Sure you may have caught a big fish that subsequently broke your line, and that may be a good story in and of itself … if you’re a Yankee. Here in the South, though, we need a little more. It should be the biggest redfish you’ve ever seen, roughly the size of a Volkswagen. (All good fish are measured relative to car sizes.) And he didn’t just break your line. He snapped in two while staring you straight in the eyes with a look of respect and defiance. We’re not necessarily encouraging you to lie, but far be it from us to let a little thing like the truth get in the way of a good story.

4. Don’t forget that Character has a capital “C.” Sure you could simply mention names, relationships or honorifics in telling your tale. And you could also serve unsweetened tea with your canned turnip greens. We need to know who these people are. We want to know that your dad’s friend Sonny is a practical joker who used to repair small engines as a hobby but never has a lawn mower that actually runs, who is the best storyteller you ever met but spent his career typesetting the stories of others. Wait. That’s my dad’s friend. Anyway, you get the idea.

So as you pursue your new life as a great Southern storyteller, be sure to keep us in the loop. If you land on a particularly good one, we’d love to share it with the world!

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