Posts Tagged ‘words’

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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Clear anecotes

Any kind of writing – whether it’s for reading or for speaking – can be made clearer and more immediate if you use an anecdote or a story to clarify your meaning.

But first the anecdote has to be carefully chosen to enhance your overall purpose. And second, the anecdote itself has to be clear. If it isn’t clear you’ll lose the reader or audience.

Try the clarity test:

1. Does it contain all the necessary facts and information? If it’s important to know that the protagonist is a man with a limp, did you show him limping?

2. Does it have too much information? Is it therefore too long? Are there any words or paragraphs you could delete to give you a crisper illustration and avoid any chance of boredom?

3.Is it clear who is doing what? If, for example, you have two women in the story, when you write “she” is it clear which one you mean?

4. Is it clear why the person acted the way you have described? If the protagonist acts or reacts strongly, is it clear why he hasn’t just smoothed things over and walked away?

5. Have you chosen strong, vivid words that are right for your audience? Have you avoided long words and technical terms except where you really need them? The actual words you use can help to focus thinking or be a distraction.

6. Can you be sincere about this anecdote, or is it “Ho, hum, I’ll throw it in because it seems to fit” ? If you can put some feeling into it your readers or audience will ‘get it’ at a much deeper level.

An anecdote can be the lens that brings the overall meaning of your writing or speech into sharper focus. Its clarity can add depth and bring the message home. Spend time polishing it

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Each day I walk past a new housing development and each day there is something new to see. Today I watched a master mason laying stones to form an elegant entrance to the project. The work he had already done spoke of an eye for detail and an instinct for which piece of stone would fit perfectly into each place in his wall. He has several pallet-boards of stone to choose from and each stone looks much the same to me – but not to him. His skill is knowing stone.

The story tellers’ skill is knowing words. Myself, I have three fat dictionaries and two thesauruses (thesauri?), all full of words. When I write a story I can choose any words I want. If I plan to impress you I can say I observed a peripatetic mendicant. If I’d like you to understand what I’m talking about I’ll tell you I saw a hobo or a tramp.

Just as the mason senses the differences between two similar stones as they relate to a space in his wall the story teller will sense the difference between words as they serve the story. If his story is for business leaders, for example, he will chose the vocabulary of today’s business world and probably throw in a few of the latest buzz words. For children’s stories the vocabulary is simple – mostly one syllable words.

But what about all the ordinary people in between? When in doubt, choose a simple word rather than a longer one. You could say ‘silly’ or you could say ‘unintelligent’. Which fits your meaning best? If it doesn’t really matter, choose the simple word. You could say ‘fat’ or ‘corpulent’, or choose one of many other words with approximately the same meaning. Use your thesaurus to check out all the options and select the one that fits precisely what you mean to say. Once in a while ‘corpulent’ may be your best choice but as a rule ‘fat’ nails your meaning accurately and briefly.

Personally I use my thesaurus often. My favourite one sits right beside my desk within easy reach and is comfortably dog-eared and tatty. I value it because it helps me select the word that expresses exactly what I mean. I try not to ignore the thesaurus and get by with whatever word slips into my mind and is pretty much what I mean. If I build a story or a speech with words that are pretty close, but not exact, guess what? I end up with a story that is pretty good, but just misses the mark for my audience or readership.

If a wall isn’t built with exactly the right stone in the right place it will look amateurish and awkward and it might fall down. Similarly, your story is built from individual words, each one selected by you to carry a tiny fraction of the burden of that story. Take time to choose carefully.

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