Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The story's in the telling

We've probably heard the saying: "The Story's in the telling"— but what does it really mean? Does the way you tell a story change the story?

When I was in grade school we used to tell jokes while waiting in line for recess to end. I always enjoyed longer jokes because they could be lengthened or shortened to make the joke more entertaining. Depending on the audience I could stretch out a joke pretty well. I have noticed a parallel between joke telling and story telling.

If you get down to the bare bones of a story it usually is pretty straightforward and not very entertaining. I found that you can make a story more entertaining by adding various details. I know that I don't weave a yarn as well as I have seen others do so. This is something that I strive towards whenever I tell a story. What makes a good story great is how you add the appropriate details so you capture your audience and keep them entertained.

Switch gears again to writing stories and I encounter a few challenges. One challenge is that I do not know my audience. When I am telling a story I pretty much know who I am telling the story to. I can adjust the details in such a way that the people I am telling the story to "get it". When I write my stories, I do not have this advantage. I need to read through my story to see if it gets bogged down in the details too much and see if the details "make sense".

Another challenge that occurs with my writing is the fact that I am a technical writer. The goal in technical writing is to come to the point and say things with brevity. So often when writing a story I don't even bother putting in those interesting details that I would normally put in because I am used to getting to the point. When I review what I wrote I am often disappointed in just how empty the story actually is.

Much like my jokes— if you have heard the story before you may roll your eyes and beg for me not to tell the story. I have seen this with someone who I thought was a great story teller and felt a bit sorry for them because they did not capture their audience. What is worse, is that in the blogging world you cannot tell the author that you have heard it before. What probably happens instead is that people take a quick look at the headline and don't read any more. I know I have done this myself when looking at posts on my reader (Oh, I've heard that before…), then I move on to the next post. I admire those amazing writers who tell those everyday stories that you normally would overlook in such a way that you can't help but read on.

How about you… Do you find that writing stories is different than telling stories? Are there obstacles that you find that make writing stories difficult to you?

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