A Really Short Story

At one of my church performances I had a “wardrobe” malfunction, and the entire seat of my pants ripped out.  I was full of fear and panic as I tried to figure out how to keep from exposing myself to the audience.  Remembering the training I received in high school drama class, I was able to complete the performance without turning my back to the audience.

That is one of the stories I tell in much greater detail in my autobiographical one-man show called Truth Be Told… From a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up. In my storytelling seminars I have been encouraging people to tell really short stories.  My friend Tom Long, the director of Friends of the Groom, introduced me to this idea that he has been sharing in his workshops.  The concept sounds simple–tell a story in just three sentences. But it takes a bit of work to take a significant event from your life and distill it down to just three sentences.  Here is another one of mine:

My infant son became very ill when he was just 6 weeks old. He almost died and spent several days in the intensive care unit of the hospital as we prepared ourselves for the worst. Today he is a healthy young man who travels the world performing music.

Telling really short stories forces you to look at the essence of what makes a good story.  You discover that good stories are almost always about something going wrong.  In the dramatic/storytelling world that is called “conflict” — every story needs one. And this becomes sentence number one.  Then you ask a simple question:  “what happens next?”  In this three-sentence structure you are forced to go for the main or most important thing that happens next. That becomes sentence number two. Then finally comes the resolution, the final outcome… the “happily ever after”… or not… if the story has a tragic ending. That becomes sentence number three.

Telling really short stories has a number of very practical applications.  If you are a pastor, speaker, or writer, learning to craft these stories can be a great way to grab an audience’s attention and do it quickly.  Often a writer or a speaker will start a story and then take rabbit trails, adding too many details or taking off on a tangent that leaves the audience wondering where this is going or what happened next in the main story.  In the process we can totally lose the listener.  Three-sentence stories help both the presenter and the listener to keep the proper focus.

But even in just everyday life, knowing how to tell a really short story can be a great way to start a conversation. Really short stories beg questions.  People will want to know more details and this can be an excellent way to build relationship and community with others in our lives. You might also find that the process of remembering these stories is a great way to reflect on life and the lessons you have learned along the way.

So go ahead, take a minute or two or ten. Think of a significant event:  funny, sad, impacting, or life-changing.  Try to tell it in just three sentences.  In fact, you can share it here in the comments.  Your really short story might be just the thing somebody else needs to hear!

Why Everyone Loves a Good Story

Chuck Neighbors in Not The Way I Heard It

“I remember 1965—that was the year there was a riot downtown ….”

“Let me tell you about the snowstorm that I was stuck in….”

“We also had a sick baby and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong….”

I am learning something about people through my newest presentation, Truth Be Told… from a Guy who Makes Stuff Up. I am learning, or relearning, just how much people connect with personal stories. Normally when I perform one of my dramatic pieces, people talk to me afterwards with comments about the play and how it impacted them. All good stuff. But with “Truth Be Told” the comments are different. This presentation is my telling stories from my life, and people are coming up to me after the presentation and wanting to tell me a story. Sharing a story from my life has triggered a response in them to connect and want to tell their stories.

So what’s happening? Why do people want to tell me their stories? I think there are at least three reasons:

  1. Identification. When I tell my story, people are drawn in because they can relate. There is a certain amount of “been there, done that.” And they listen because they want to see if I did what they did in a similar situation, or how I handled it differently. They relate and connect because we hold certain details and situations in common.
  2. Authenticity. Because they identify with the situation, they are drawn to the truth of the story. I share the story and in a sense relive it before them, bringing all the emotion of the first time. In the process they see that I am a real person, not just a performer. Being authentic breaks down the barrier between speaker and audience, causing them to care about me and the things I care about.
  3. Validation. Because they identify and because of the authenticity of the story they have heard, they now have a sense that their story matters. Being real and vulnerable in the telling of my story has freed them to want to tell their own stories. And because they connected with me through my story, I am the one they want to share it with.

I am finding this to be very encouraging— the sort of response I was hoping for! In our current culture of instant and cyber communication, the sharing of story is at risk–replaced by the instant sharing of information. Not that there is anything wrong with all the social media… but in many ways it can become sort of anti-social. We run the danger of making our lives about the latest status update and in the process lose the art of really talking face to face with people and sharing our stories.

The art of telling your story is for everyone, whether as a performer, pastor, speaker or just a friend in a coffee shop, or sitting in a living room, or around the campfire.

When is the last time you shared a story from your life face to face with someone?

Invite Chuck Neighbors to tell his story and/or host a story workshop for your church or organization.

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