#57 How Do You Make Sure Your Story Isn’t Boring?
Three essential tools for evaluating your stories
So I had a whole thing planned this week to share more about brand storytelling and provide additional context about the pilot course, but something else feels much more urgent.
In a special note last week I asked you what element of storytelling you wanted to learn more about and I was shocked by some of the answers. So many of you shared that you weren’t sure if your stories are interesting enough and wanted help evaluating them or tips on making them relevant. First of all, thank you for sharing. For those of you who haven’t had a chance, I really would appreciate the help. If you can take a couple of quick seconds to answer here, I would be forever in your debt (and promise even more great storytelling resources as a result)—it’s super short, I promise. The answers I’ve already gotten given me new insight into how to approach sharing storytelling knowledge in the school when it launches and here.
But for today too many of you are worried that your story might not be good enough, for me to focus on anything but that. The key thing I want to communicate before we dive in is this: that’s just not true. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it until you believe it and feel it in your soul: your story matters (imagine a very naggy motherly tone for that last sentence). Every story matters. How you shape it and frame it is what gets it to interesting and engaging, but it matters no matter what state it’s in right now.
Part of the purpose of this newsletter is to help you understand and leverage the beauty and power of stories in your life and business. Stories are fundamentally human creations and telling them comes naturally to us. But it does take practice and understanding of certain approaches if you haven’t done it in a while. I’ve written about what it takes to be a great storyteller here, what makes a good story here, getting started with a messy first draft, and the agony of not sharing your story. Go back and read some of those if you’re struggling with a story right now, I think they’ll help with perspective and approach.
But I wanted to give you three elements to use to start evaluating your stories right away (and a bonus). Once you’ve created something or you start preparing to create a story I want you to ask yourself if it has the following elements.
Tension: This is want, because, but. Some sort of challenge or struggle for your hero—whether it’s a client, a customer, a character, or you. If it’s all butterflies and daisies, it may be nice to look at, but it’ll be missing an essential ingredient for making it interesting and engaging to your audience. And tension comes in many forms, it can be explicit or implied. You don’t have to write “it was hard” for your audience to understand your hero is struggling. Remember, show don’t tell.
Action: This one is about two things, first it’s about movement through space or time—things need to happen for your viewer and/or for your hero. The second is about energy and tone—if you’re creating an object it needs to feel dynamic in some way, if you’re writing words focus on keeping the voice active (vs. passive). This one is the difference between saying I was chased by a dog and I ran from a dog. In one of them you have agency and the other, life is happening to you (you’re being chased). Give your hero agency—unless the tension is that they don’t have it—you see how you can have fun with this and be flexible?
Transformation: Something needs to change. It has to. Often your hero learns something, or your viewer or reader has a new perspective. Perhaps your customer or client experiences the benefit of your offering and their life improves as a result. If at the end of your story, the hero (whoever or whatever it is) is exactly the same as they were at the beginning, I want you to go back and rethink the story.
The bonus element is feedback. Ask someone. It truly is a gift. Share your story with someone you trust to be kind but to also be real with you. My sister and two of my closest friends are my readers. Anytime I finish a large writing project I send it to at least one of them to get their thoughts. If it needs work they tell me, if it’s brilliant they tell me (it’s rarely brilliant the first time around), if it’s a mix they tell me. Get you some folks in your life who will be open and kind and critical of your work.
So the next time you start or complete a story ask yourself: Is there tension? Where’s the action? What’s the transformation? I hope this one is helpful. Please please please share in the comments how this may have helped you think about your stories in new ways and any questions it leaves you with that I may be able to help answer.
A Story Well Told
I’m doing a free live webinar for Creative Mornings tomorrow Wednesday August 25, 2021 at 3pm EST. I’ll be sharing foundational tools to use in crafting your brand story (I know, I’m obsessed). It’ll build on a lot of the things we talk about here and provide a lens into some of the things I’ll teach in the pilot course that starts in September. You can register here. If you’re free, I’d love for you to join. If you’re not able to join, don’t worry I’ll share anything new that comes up at some point here—it’s part of the adventure. For those of you interested in stories beyond brand stories, know that those are coming too.
I’m feeling especially grateful this week and just wanted to thank you for going on this adventure with me, for reading, and for sharing. I’m so lucky to get to share some of my stories and experiences with you and so glad you chosen to be part of it. Enjoy the adventure and I’ll see you next week.