Ten Steps to Writing a Good Story

“Tell me a stowy, Daddy.”  My father loved to hear me say this when I was a toddler and quoted it to me frequently when I was growing up.   I guess I always liked a good story!  Even now one of the exercises I do with clients looking for meaningful work is to have them write their life stories.  We look for clues of strengths, talents and values that show up throughout their lives.  In those autobiographies are many stories.  Frequently we find one that is the basis for their new career.

Being a good story teller is an important asset for everyone.  It enables you to easily make a memorable point for your audience.  Lately I’ve been thinking about ways to tell a good story especially for people who are not natural story tellers.  Here is a list of 10 steps for you to try.

  1. What is your story about? Think of a situation you have faced during your life, a failure, an experience where you were doing meaningful work, an awkward moment, a difficult decision. If you are preparing for an interview think about what the interviewer might ask that you could illustrate with a life or work story.
  2. How can you capture the story? Stories are meant to be told so tell the story to someone else i.e. a friend, a coach, or a mentor. If you are alone record your story as you tell it on your recording equipment. It is often easier to tell the story initially than to begin writing immediately. If you are with someone else they will be able to tell you if the story makes sense. Once you have the story recorded you can ask a friend to listen.
  3. What is missing in your story? Let your friend, coach, or mentor ask you questions about the story. If you are alone ask yourself some questions about the story. For example ask what was significant about what happened, what was meaningful to you about it, what was the result, why is the story significant and how did you feel? The questions and answers might become part of the story or you might want to work on creating the story in a way that others feel and see what you do.
  4.  Why are you telling this story? Look for a point to your story. Don’t make the story fit a point! Let the story tell you what it is about. (In practicing for an interview though as you make a point you may think of a story that illustrates it.)
  5. How will you remember the story? It is now time to write down your story. Incorporate all that you have learned from the questions you asked yourself and others asked you into the story.
  6. How can you be sure not to bore the audience? Now read the story out loud. Ask others to listen to it too. Eliminate any unnecessary details and leave only what matters to make your audience see the point. Ask for feedback.
  7. How can you make the story come alive? Use colorful descriptions, drama and creative tension to make the story more meaningful. Try to get the listener to feel what you felt. If there is a turning point in the story create the tension needed before the final resolution.
  8. What is the theme of your story? Find a universal theme for your audience. Here you are giving them the reason for telling them story. It has to do with the point you are making but in fact may be more global.
  9. Is your story complete? Write a final draft of your story. Keep editing until you are pleased with the result.
  10. How can you make the story seem like a natural part of the conversation? Practice it by reading it over and over until you know it well enough so you can tell it easily in conversational style while still creating the tension and feeling of the story.
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