If you want to master great storytelling, you have to learn 3 essential lessons. All of them are contained in a wonderful TED talk by Carmen Agra Deedy about her mother, driving, and a universal insight.
1. No story from your life is as interesting to others as it is to you. You have to be concise. You have to pick your details. You have to ruthlessly cut out the history and just give the high points. Your chronology is almost always not interesting to others, but it’s the way you think about your life, mostly. So the first step is to lose the chronology and just focus on the turning points. Carmen doesn’t give us the history of her relationship with her mother; she starts with one fateful Saturday morning when it all came together – ridiculously, stressfully, and memorably.
2. A great story must have conflict; a personal story must show you in an honest – and probably less than flattering – light. We’re not interested in your triumphs; we’re interested in your humanity. You will bore us with the former and enchant us with the latter. Carmen confesses frankly that she finds her mother a tad difficult to handle – that’s human. Most of us would like to pretend our family relationships are perfect to outsiders, to audiences, to the world. But Carmen has the courage to reveal a little truth, and as such she connects with our secret selves, our true selves, and the places where we admit we’re not perfect to ourselves and those closest to us.
3. A great story involves a turning point. For a story to move us, we must see a character subjected to pressure, and changing as a result. Carmen has a difficult morning with her mother – and then something magical happens. The trigger for that change comes from outside, but the change is within Carmen, and that’s why it’s magical. It’s a great story as a result. The point comes and goes quickly; it’s easily missed. So stick with the talk to the end and pay attention to learn how great storytelling is done.
A story is not an anecdote. A story is a tale of struggle leading to change. The world has minimal patience for anecdotes, but it will never tire of great stories.