Don’t tell stories (if you want to be ignored and forgotten)

You don’t have to tell stories. Unless, of course, you want people to remember you.

Tell stories to be read and rememberedConsider me the writing equivalent of the dentist who says, “Only the ones you need to keep” when a patient asks if he has to floss all of his teeth. As far as I’m concerned, everything should tell a story.

Tweets? Yes, they’re short. That doesn’t exempt them. Not when someone (maybe Hemingway) can move us in six words:

For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

That clocks in at 33 characters—room for three more stories, should you care to tweet them. And a hashtag: #novels

But many tweets merely serve as the public transportation on which other ideas ride out into the world. In other words, we tweet links. Do those tweets have to tell stories? Nope.

That is, not unless you want someone to click on the link.

I was going to exempt lists from my storytelling commandments. After all, they’re just utilitarian.

But are they? As I recall, I did much better at Christmas when my wish list to Santa told a story. One year I wrote it out as a child might, in large, shaky handwriting complete with the occasional backwards S and misspelling. My father was so charmed that he took it to the store and bragged on it to the salesclerk.

“Your daughter is asking for some pretty sophisticated stuff,” the lady at the perfume counter told him. “Just how old is she?” I don’t know what she was expecting but, Reader, I was in college. By the way, I got everything on my list that year.

Tell stories whenever and however you can

“Storytelling is joke-telling.”

That’s how Academy Award-winning director Andrew Stanton starts his TED Talk about storytelling. Well…after recounting a long, extremely Not Safe For Work joke. But there’s no doubt he grabbed the audience’s attention.

Stanton doesn’t mean that every story needs to be funny. Just that it has to have a through-line:

“Knowing that everything you’re saying from the first thing to the last is leading to a singular goal.”

And it has to resonate with us, your readers or listeners:

“…ideally confirming some proof that deepens our understanding of who we are as human beings.”

He offers some “storytelling commandments,” as well. These made it into my notes:

Make me care
A well-organized absence of information draws us in
Strong theme runs through it
Capture a truth from your experience
Express values you feel deep down in your core

Have a listen to the whole TED Talk, and see how well Stanton does with the commandments above.

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