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Why is it so easy to tell personal stories but so hard to write them

We tell stories all the time.

At the dinner table, around the watercooler, in the cafes, on the phone. We talk in the form of stories. But we don’t notice that. We think we are having a conversation, but in fact, we are sharing stories.

Don’t believe me? Think of the conversation you had at the dinner table last night and you will see what I mean.

This is what happened at my dinner table last night.

Yesterday I made a special pumpkin dish that my mother-in-law used to make. It smelled devine and looked delicious. Rather than enjoying it, my husband went to the fridge and brought out leftovers.

That was enough for me to lose my temper. I had spent an hour making the dish that I thought he would enjoy, and he didn’t even try it.

“Why do you have to go for left-overs every time? Why can’t you eat fresh food? Don’t you like my cooking?”

I was furious. The questions came out like bullets. Yet they were unnecessary. I already knew the answer. Coming from a large family, he was brought up not to waste food.

But that was not the point. The point was, forty years of living in an affluent country where fresh food is abundant; he still couldn’t change his habit.

Did you notice? How a simple routine dinner table conversation is, in fact, a story.

It is easy to tell stories verbally.

When we tell stories, we have the advantage of facial expressions, body language, and verbal cues from the listeners. The listener might ask a question. Which might prompt us to expand that story or add the details we missed. We can use broken sentences and may repeat ourselves to make a point.

But when it comes to telling the same story on paper, we don’t have all these luxuries. Most of us get stuck when it comes to using personal stories in our writing.

If writing stories is so hard, why should we bother?

The skill to incorporate stories in your writing is valuable not only for writers but for everyone. Just like we tell stories in our conversations, we tell stories in our everyday writing. A report, a discussion paper, a resume, or even an email encrusted with stories makes a much lasting impression than just facts and figures.

The way we tell stories matter.

Ever noticed that some people have the knack of telling stories. The ones with a group of people around them at a party. They are the storytellers. They have figured out how to tell their stories in a way that people gather around them to hear them out.

What do they know about storytelling that others don’t?

What can we learn from them?

Three things:

  1. Follow the structure. Every story has a structure — a beginning, a middle, and an end. Written stories need to follow the structure even more stringently than a verbal story. Even a four-lines story, should have the first as the beginning, the last line as the ending, and two lines forming the middle of the story.
  2. Bring in drama. Drama draws in the audience. Any story can have drama in it. Conflict is a great way to introduce drama. My dinner table story wouldn’t be a story if there was no conflict in it. Drama can also be introduced by using anticipation, exaggeration, and detail.
  3. Make it short. No one has time to read long-winded personal stories. Shorter and punchier stories make more impact than lengthy anecdotes. Make sure it is tight, has no unfinished sentences, repetition, or unnecessary details. Otherwise, it stops being a story and becomes a ramble.

A well written personal story is a great way to connect with the readers and to make a point. Learn to write them. And write them well.

Photo by Surface on Unsplash

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