Updated: May 25, 2020
Choosing which life events make a good story.
Life isn’t like it is in the movies. There aren’t clear beginnings, middles and ends in our stories - apart from the most obvious ones such as birth, life and death.
With the relentless flow of life, events merge into one another. Any stories we may have become entwined with other things and it becomes hard to tell where one thing ends and another begins.
We also often look within ourselves for the stories that feel worthy of making a Hollywood movie about, and for most people, those kinds of theatrical, dramatic story arcs rarely ever happen to us. (The last time I arranged to meet my wife for a Christmas drink her office block wasn’t taken over by terrorists, and I didn’t have to parade around barefoot in a bloodied vest with a machine gun strapped to me in order to save the day. But, maybe I’m the exception, not the rule.)
Most of us don’t tend to have such high drama in our lives. We experience the small, often mundane aspects of life while we go about our daily routine of both work and play. And yet, that is actually where some of the greatest story gold is to mined.
The most inspiring stories aren’t about conquering incredible feats or saving the world. They happen so rarely to so few people that it is hard for most of us to associate with them anyhow.
The stories that move and empower people are the little stories, but where a transformation of some kind takes place. The storyteller goes through something that leaves them forever changed, and, most powerfully, this transformation takes place within the confines of ordinary, everyday life.
This transformation could be in the form of something that physically changes you - an accident for example, or it most likely will be an inner transformation in the form of a realisation or a valuable lesson learnt.
The reason that these kind of stories are so powerful is that more people can associate with them and empathise with the experience, perhaps it can help them to transform in some way too. These stories also unite people because we get a better sense of a shared journey - we aren’t in this alone, there are others who know what I’m going through. This is why frazzled new mums seek out blogs that help them to justify lunchtime drinking; and why there is a quiet revolution bubbling under in the men’s beard oil community.
These transformational stories often require the storyteller daring to show some vulnerability and openness in sharing their experience. This vulnerability is both empowering to the teller and endearing to the listener. Trust is established, barriers fall down.
So when you look for your stories, don’t always look for the big moments, even if you do have some mammoth experiences to share. Although, if you do have a story that involves an actual mammoth, you should definitely tell that one.
Look deeper for those smaller moments where you were changed by something, where you were never the same from that moment onwards - for better or for worse. Start with that transformational moment and dig out the story from there, like a sculptor chipping away at a block of marble attempting to unearth a masterpiece within.
What was the understanding you gained?
In order for there to be a transformation, there needs to be a ‘before’ and then an ‘after’. What was the ‘before’? That’s a good place to start so that you can take people on the journey from the beginning.
Set the scene. Where were you? What year was it? What is the overriding image that comes to mind when you think of the ‘before’ moment? Describe it, tell us about it.
Then. slowly move through what happened as you build towards the moment that things changed.
Describe the ‘after’ moment. What did you see? What did you feel? How were you changed?
And then, get out.
Don’t linger too long.
Let the awakening moment ring out and echo, so that it remains in the mind of the listener, and even in yourself.
Better to leave people with questions, than leave them wishing you had shut up five minutes ago.
And so, on that bombshell, I’m going too.