One of my favorite storytellers, Isabel Allende, got started in fiction-writing after meeting Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the magical realist extraordinaire (whose works I also love), and thinking: “If he can do it, so can I.” I have always enjoyed her take-no-prisoners attitude, both in her writing and public talks/interviews.

In this TED talk, Allende shares as many tales of passion as she can squeeze into 18 minutes or so while being funny and charming as all-get-out.

Here are a couple of bits I loved from this talk:

There is a Jewish saying that I love:

Question: What is truer than truth?

Answer: The story.

As a storyteller I want to convey something truer than truth about our common humanity. All stories interest me and some haunt me until I end up writing them. Certain themes keep coming back: justice, loyalty, violence, love, death, politics and social issues, and freedom. I am aware of the mystery around us, so I also write about coincidences, premonitions, dreams, emotions, the power of nature, magic.

. . .

Passion lives here. Isn’t it always true? Heart is what drives us and determines our fate. That is what I need for my characters in my books: a passionate heart. I need mavericks, dissidents, adventurers, outsiders and rebels, who ask questions, bend the rules and take risks. People like all of you in this room. Nice people with common sense do not make interesting characters. They only make good former spouses.

Yes, I would love to have Sophia Loren’s long legs and legendary breasts. But given a choice, I would rather have the warrior hearts of Wangari Maathai, Somaly Mam, Jenny and Rose Mapendo. I want to make this world good. Not better, but to make it good. Why not? It is possible.

If you’re not familiar with Allende’s works or if you don’t know too much about them, allow me to recommend an excellent reference guide by McFarland Literary Companions. These are such absolute gems of books, as you’ll see from my review, that I want them for every one of my favorite authors. Way more readable and interesting than any literary reference book I’ve ever come across.

You might also enjoy this Isabel Allende interview with the BBC World Service Book Club. And this National Geographic interview based on her latest book, Maya’s Notebook, where she is as funny as ever (although, watch for her India story around the 12-minute mark where she describes a major epiphany that led to her charity foundation work.)

My favorite novels of hers is The House of Spirits, a terrific inter-generational story based on both Allende’s life in Chile as well as the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (still, they are different enough books, I must add.)

And if you liked this particular TED Talk, here’s an entire TED playlist on “How To Tell a Story.”

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