Shaping Your Story

StoryShapeIn my last blog I shared some triggers to help you get started in crafting your own library of personal stories. Our stories are a powerful way to connect and communicate with others, both from a platform as well as in every-day conversation.

We all have stories worth telling, but we have also listened to stories that we wished would end long before they did. While I believe everybody has good stories, not everyone tells their story well. Your story could be a life impacting story for the listener, but in order for that to happen it will likely need some editing and shaping.

Here are a 5 things to help you in shaping your story:

Write It: That may seem obvious to most, but many are tempted to think that because they know the story first-hand, they don’t need to write it out.  However, those who try to tell their story extemporaneously are often the ones who will put their listener to sleep. Writing it will help you distinguish between what needs to be said to move the story along and what is unnecessary or “fluff.”  In addition, writing will help you make discoveries. You will discover more applications for your story in the writing process. Of course after you have crafted it in the writing, commit it to memory. Tell your story, don’t read it!

Follow Simple Structure: A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In improvisation, actors work on simple story structure that applies to all storytelling.

1) Establish when and where.
2) Something goes wrong (aka a crisis occurs).
3) Quest to solve the crisis (what did you do in response to the crisis?).
4) Resolution. Once you get to this place the story is over.

Paying attention to this structure will keep your story focused and prevent it from meandering off course.

Edit: “A friend told me” may be all we need to say vs. “My friend, Robert, who I knew since high school, who was the best man in my wedding, and is the Godfather to my children.” That may be important to you—but not to the listener. Ask yourself: “Does this serve the point or is it a rabbit trail?”

Make it Now!: Strive to tell your story in the present tense, not in the past tense.  Obviously it is a story of something that happened in the past, but try to tell the story so we feel you are experiencing it now.  In my presentation Truth Be Told…from A Guy Who Makes Stuff Up, I share a story about an embarrassing incident that happened on stage in front of a live audience. I “relive” the incident so the audience feels like they are experiencing it with me. I share my thoughts and emotions as if it were happening now. This helps to put the audience in the situation with you and helps guarantee they will identify with your story!

Don’t Sermonize: Even if your story is part of a sermon, resist sermonizing the conclusion. Don’t let your desire to give a message overpower the story. Trust the story to speak for itself. It is likely the lesson you learned from your story wasn’t evident at the time… it may have taken years for the story to have new meaning. For many of my stories that happened years ago, I have only recently discovered applications to my life today. Leave room for the audience to make their own discoveries by reflecting on their own stories.

In storytelling, “the medium is the message.” It may be hard for many pastors and teachers to learn to trust that.  But think of Jesus, the master storyteller.  In telling the parables he didn’t explain them, at least not right away.  He would often say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” He trusted the story to the listener. He only offered explanations later, if necessary. Learn to trust your stories and you will find eager listeners.

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