Spice Up Your Story

storyspiceHave you ever heard two people tell very different versions of the exact same story? Happens in our house all the time. I can recount an event and tell it to someone in less than 30 seconds—a “just the facts, ma’am” approach. My wife’s version of the same story might take a good 5 minutes and she will add details that I never noticed; sometimes I am convinced she is making things up.  We remember things differently and when we retell them, our versions are greatly influenced by how the event affected us personally. It might have been no big deal to me but a very significant event for my wife. My version is boring; hers is animated and full of life.

Telling a good story is more than just recounting details and facts. A good story engages the listener in ways they can identify with you and compels them to listen.  Here are 5 tips to help you spice up your story:

  1. Sensory Recall: What did you see, hear, smell, taste? Don’t go overboard, and don’t try to hit them all. This is a story for telling, not a novel. But adding a little “color” to the retelling will give people a feeling of being present in the story with you. “I walked into my parents’ home and smelled the apple pie baking in the oven.” Immediately you have struck a chord with those listeners who have had a similar experience.
  2. Commentary: “Fresh apple pie was one of the ways I knew my mother loved me.” Adding a little commentary on some of the things you mention can be a great way to enhance your story. It lets people see more of who you are, unlike simply recounting facts.
  3. Humor: When an audience laughs they identify with what you are saying. Laughter sets both you and the audience at ease. However, don’t tell jokes! Many comedians use observational humor in their routines–they might be telling a story but they add a few funny lines about whatever they are talking about. You could take the subject of “apple pie” and then talk about all the products you use every day that you wish smelled like apple pie: candles, deodorant, toilet paper, etc… Or maybe you have a funny story about biting into an apple and finding half a worm. Mining your story for humor will always be a winner with your audience.
  4. Dialog: Your story will be most effective if you can bring a sense of “now” to it. One very effective way to do this is to include dialog in the story. Instead of just telling us what happened, give voice to your characters. When you walk into the house, imitate your mother and say, “Honey, I made your favorite apple pie.” You can replay entire dialogs with a little change in voice and body posture. Your listeners will love it!
  5. Embellish: If you’ve seen a movie that starts out with a disclaimer “based on a true story,” you automatically know that some of what you are about to see is not exactly the way it happened. Dramatic license has been used. It’s okay to embellish and borrow from your life history to make a better story in the retelling.  I’m not saying to lie or to make stuff up, but you might have two different stories about your Mom’s apple pie. There was the time she mistakenly added chili powder instead of cinnamon and the time you ate a pie that was being saved for a special occasion. They are two separate but true events and there are elements from both stories you want to tell but time doesn’t allow you to tell both. You could turn both stories into one story. You ate a pie that was saved for a special occasion only to discover that your mother had used chili powder instead of cinnamon. You can embellish on your thoughts as well. The events happened when you were a child and I doubt you remember exactly what you were thinking or exactly what you said when you ate that pie. It is perfectly fine to add details that are true to who you are but may not be exactly what happened. You might say, “I felt so guilty for eating that pie” because it serves the point of your story. However, the truth might be you didn’t feel guilty, you felt disappointed because it tasted bad. It might have been hours, days, or weeks later that you felt guilty.

Adding some spice to your story will turn a good story into a great one. It will make your story more entertaining, and while entertainment may not be your goal, your story won’t make an impact unless you are entertaining in the process!

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