Archive for the ‘Immediacy’ Category

The only way I will care about your story is if you make me care. You can’t expect your reader or audience to care unless you make it happen. You are in control. You create the emotional link. Think of three basic steps.

1. Your idea

Your story can be stand-alone or it can be illustrating a point. Either way, the basic idea is one that your readers or audience can relate to. It seems obvious. A group of women with small children will relate to a story about toilet training but a group of business men will think that a waste of time.

Let’s look at those businessmen. Are they entrepreneurs? Franchisees? Local business? International? Well established?  Focused on a product or a service? In other words you need to know more about this audience as you formulate your ideas. Define as precisely as you can the concept of what this audience is looking for. What is their primary interest? What are they hungry to know more about?

Once you can state what they are hungry for you have found your basic idea.

2. Your perspective

You are speaking or writing about this topic or idea because other people want a piece of the experience and knowledge you have. Experience and knowledge add up to an educated perspective. Some people may have the knowledge – they may have read lot about it. Some people may have hands-on experience but feel they lack the theoretical background that would give them a wider understanding.

Your perspective melds these two together to  unite the best in both those worlds. And you have stories and anecdotes from your experience to bring this to life. Every point you make you will be illustrated by a carefully chosen story from your experience. This is the story that vividly adds context and meaning to your basic idea.

Your  story or anecdote and your perspective are closely linked. The story supports your idea and your perspective – it it doesn’t do this, then pick another story.

3. Your words

Once you’ve found an idea that will draw people in and a perspective that offers your unique knowledge and experience you can start building your story to give that idea depth and meaning. A story is built from words. Try to use simple direct words wherever that is possible.

Tell your story through the senses. What do you see in the story – a landscape, a streetscape, a room? What components can you see? Trees, parked cars, a bookshelf crammed full of books?

What can you hear in the story – bird song, the screech of brakes, heavy metal music? Is there the smell of cedar, garbage or furniture polish? Do you feel the wind, the elevator button or the smooth leather chair? Can you taste the tomato in the sandwich, the popcorn, the repulsion of milk turned sour?

All the senses draw people into your story, bringing your idea to life and making your perspective real to audience or readers. and we haven’t even started on the immediacy of dialogue.

So, to make people care about what you have to say choose and hone your idea with care, present it through the lens of your own knowledge and experience and spend time selecting the words that will bring it to life.



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The Focus of your Story

When our kids were younger we would sometimes decide to take a week of the summer holidays and drive to Calgary. We had lived there a for a few years when we were first married and we both had friends there. So we would tell everyone we were going to Calgary for the week and I’d tell my friends there that we were coming and to get out the coffee pot (or wine bottle) in readiness.

And we’d pack the car and set off. First we would stop to visit Don’s favourite cousin near Chilliwack. We would at least stay for a meal and often for the night – the kids loved the lake there. Next day on we would go, using Highway #3 because we needed to stop to visit friends in Christina Lake, in Cranbrook and near Fernie.

Of course you can guess what happened. It took four days to do a one-day trip and we only had a couple of days left for Calgary. I think we fell into that trap three years in a row before we wised up and learned to whip through to Calgary in ten hours on Highway #1.

Call it lack of focus, lack of true direction. It’s the same with stories. You have to make your mind up what this story is about and then stick to the plan. There is always the temptation to add in an interesting little tangent, or to ‘enrich the theme’, which usually means losing focus.

Understand your theme right from the start, then build your plot to carry the theme. Suppose your theme is the importance of education. A good story might be how, in one period of your life, you came to realize that your lack of education was holding you back. You would choose scenes to illustrate the menial jobs you had to do, the rotten bosses you had to put up with, the difficulties you went through to earn the tuition fees, the sacrifices your family made to help you. You might show the struggles you had in university, but then there is the climax, graduating, pride and Ta Da! a great new job.

That would be a focused story. It doesn’t wander off anywhere. You don’t get carried away by the benefits of, say, French immersion education. (It’s a good topic, but it’s another story.) The characters all support the story in some way.

A story that is focused and comes to a strong climax is satisfying for the reader or the audience. More importantly, maybe, it gets your message across. “Education is important – you can see how it worked for me!” Any lack of focus, tangents, additional little messages that seem to (almost) fit only weaken your basic message.

Discard anything in the story that might weaken your message. Stick with your direction. Focus.

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Three men went into a bar and…. You know it’s going to be a joke. You listen for the set up and the punchline then (with luck) you laugh. You don’t expect any great depth from this story, no deep insights or motivation. There’s nothing wrong with jokes – we all need a good laugh. Most of your stories might have a little humour in them, but they are not jokes. You want them to illustrate a point, or give deeper insight or clarity. In order to do this effectively you need to make an immediate connection between your audience and your story. Usually this connection is through you. If you present the story as if it happened to you then you immediately hook the audience into the story. These should be true (or ‘true enough’ stories). Telling a personal story creates a strong and immediate link between you and your audience. People love to hear about the mistakes you made and learned from, difficulties you’ve overcome. They don’t want your speech to be drowning in those but one or two, carefully chosen to illustrate your points, draws your audience closer. If the story you’d like to tell doesn’t fit you, decide what type of person would fit best into the story. Could you make it about your mother or grandmother, your father or brother or sister?  You also have neighbours, colleagues, friends and the characters that inhabit your local coffee shop and hardware store. You can feature anyone in a story. Just make clear the link between yourself and the person. You’re going to use tact, of course – no negative stories about friends and family. You can change names and use poetic licence. “My neighbour Mike”, for instance when you have no such neighbour. (Just don’t tell a negative story about your neighbour Bob and think it will be okay as long as you re-name him Mike.) Try to resist the urge to leap straight into the story: “I used to know this man who….” Try for “When I was about six years old a man called Bill Dickson lived across the street from us…” Again, you have put yourself into the story, bridging from the audience to the focal character, and letting us know more about him. And even if you are telling a joke it need not be three men going into a bar. How about ‘my uncle and a couple of his buddies’ or ‘my neighbour and his two brothers’?  It brings the joke to life faster and makes the set up stronger.

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The closer your reader feels to the story, the more deeply they will listen – and pick up the message behind it – the message you’re trying to get across. Suppose your message is “You should listen carefully to what other people are telling you.”

The ‘You should’ is going to put people off right away. No-one wants to do that – it sounds like no fun at all.

So you are going to dress it up with a story.

Your story might start, “This woman was phoning another woman and telling her about a problem she was having with her teenage daughter”. It’s better than starting off ‘You should listen’ but it still isn’t going to pull in many readers.

But what about,”Last night my friend Maria phoned, all upset about her daughter Lisa. Lisa is 15 now and starting to date ….”

The story has been made more immediate by being set in recent time. It could have been this morning or this afternoon, or right after supper, it doesn’t matter. It is a clearly identified, recent time.

It is more immediate because it happened to you. (Now if you’re a woman readers will accept that story. If you are a techie guy and everyone knows it, then maybe it had better be your friend Josh and the problem is caused by his elderly mother, Doris.)

The main character, Maria (or Josh) has been given a name. She is not some vague woman that no-one cares about, she is Maria. And you have introduced her as your friend. Because you care about her, your reader will care, just a little, too. You have your reader hooked.

You can progress from there to flesh out your story. If it is just an example (‘I didn’t listen to her and I should have. Negative consequences ensued’ ) then the fleshing out can be minimal. You get to the point and move on. Just make sure to speak of Maria as you would if she truly were your friend, and not in the casual, remote way you would refer to ‘some woman’.

If, however, this needs to be a longer story to carry a deeper meaning keep the immediacy going by adding description and action that will resonate with your readership or audience. She might be

‘a single mom with spiky hair and body piercings’

‘organist at the local church with a handicapped husband and a big debt load’

‘Vice President of Marketing who drives a Lexus and wouldn’t move from the house without her Blackberry’.

And give your readers a glimpse into your relationship:

‘She was the one who drove me home the time I got sick at the party’

‘She not only got the best marks in school, she got the best looking dates. I was so jealous of her’

‘I’ve only known her a month or so, but if I see her at the bus stop I give her a ride to work’.

These are the details that bring your story to life and give it credibility. If your characters and their situations are strong enough you can slip a message in without anyone noticing.

The jam completely conceals the pill.

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