Posts Tagged ‘Immediacy’

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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