Today, I listened to a man telling a story at the park. It was one of those stories where I found myself nodding along, although all the while I was zoning out, waiting for him to close his tale so I could move on.
That got me thinking… WHY?
The problem wasn’t the topic. The story was about a dog who thought he was bigger and tougher than the rest, which pretty much sounds like a cute picture book to me. He also talked about WWII soldiers shooting pool, drinking, and smoking in the nearby pool hall conjuring images of a great period movie I’d watch with gangsters and a love interest.
The problem was in the details.
The man went on so many rabbit trails offering details that I didn’t need in order to listen to his story. They may have been interesting facts. They may have been special memories. But they didn’t push his story forward, and actually caused me to want to rush to the end.
I have read stories and watched movies like this. I’ve seen it in my friends work and in my own work. Knowing which details and how many to include is a delicate balance, taking the audience from sitting on the edge of their seat in anticipation to scooting to the edge to bolt as soon as the storyteller takes their final breath.
Another friend of mine is an amazing storyteller. His topics are not that interesting, like cheeseburgers, but the details he chooses to include (sensory and active) keep me so involved that when he say, “Did I ever tell you the time…” I find that even if he already has, I tend to say, “No,” just so I can hear it again.
CHALLENGE: Go over some of your short stories or novel chapters and record yourself reading them out loud. When you play the segment back, notice where you find yourself drifting as a listener. This will help you to see where your story needs improving.
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