by Shelby Kittleson
We all know someone who is absolutely terrible at telling a story.
My very best friend, Marissa, is the worst offender. She once told me about a time that she and her husband were running late for a flight, and he choked on a sandwich while they were running, and she was so worried about him, but actually he was totally fine after only a few seconds, and they got on the plane for their honeymoon.
I love her, but that story sucked.
I think the reason it sucked (again, I love you, Marissa) is because she left me with so many questions, and no real excitement or passion or fear or feeling. I'm not saying this saga needed to be told like A Farewell To Arms, but it would have been better with a bit more sensory detail, a sense of heightened stakes, a touch on universal emotions, and a lesson at the end.
Here are some basic tips for making sure your stories are always better than Marissa's...
(She's very beautiful and hella intelligent and truly kind - just... the storytelling...):
1. Interpret a theme as personally as you see fit.
If the theme is "Feast", you don't have to write about food. Write about about excess weight (literally or metaphorically), or about starving for attention, or about some delicious gossip that ruined your life. I always like to make a word cloud about a theme, with whatever that theme makes me think of, and what those thoughts make me think of, etc. See my example above!
2. Be honest.
Don't make up the story, and don't tell someone else's story. I once wrote a ten minute story about trying to sell my clothes at a consignment shop. That whole actual adventure took me about 3 minutes, but small moments and interactions can became full, rounded stories once you...
3. Add sensory details.
Take the case of Marissa's husband. What kind of sandwich was he eating? Was he sweating or panting while running and trying to take a bite? Was the sandwich really that delicious that he couldn't stop to take a bite and chew and swallow? Were you that late? How late were you? How many times had you checked your watch while you ran? Did he turn blue when he choked? Did he signal for help? DID ANYONE HELP THIS POOR MAN?
4. Heighten the stakes.
Marissa just felt like dropping in that they were on their way to their h o n e y m o o n. What if her husband had nearly perished while they were just about to set foot on the great adventure of matrimony? Could you even imagine? That's high stakes - high emotion. You're running late, you might miss an international flight, and the love of your GD life could die? Please don't add that he only choked for like five seconds. Let me think this might be it. Hold the audience captive in the same fear you felt.
5. Try to teach.
What did you, the storyteller, learn from the story? Are you going to be sure to arrive 17 hours early to the airport for every flight from now on? Will you pack snacks for the flight instead of trying to eat while running between terminals? Will you always monitor your husband's eating habits and ensure he chews and swallows in a timely and patient fashion? Try to leave the audience remembering the heart of your story - why it was imperative you tell it - how you changed from it.
Follow these tips (Marissa!!), and maybe then I won't interrupt you every five seconds to nitpick your narrative!
(I'm sorry I interrupt you so often, you're brilliant and accomplished and thoughtful).
Come see Let's Just Say on July 12 at 9pm for only $5.