One simple way to breathe life into your story

You are eager to tell a story to your friends, or even your clients, something you have experienced. You are excited and you start blabbering away, only to notice that their attention slowly start to fade away. You’re left with trying to figure out how to end your story, and you promptly decide to just end it, sparing your audience the agony, and yourself the despair of watching their uninterested reactions. This has happened to me many times and also during presentations. Has it happened to you? I’m sure you have, we have all seen our audiences checking their phones, looking at their watch, even staring blankly out the window, while you are frantically trying to divulge some very crucial information.

In this first post in a series of posts about story telling (#9story9) , I will share 1 insight/rule to spruce up your stories, however you deliver your craft. When I was reading Robert McKee’s book: “Story”, I came across a section about a compelling script structure and it was about building value and anti-value, point and counter point more and more as the script progresses (see Pulp Fiction example below) to drive your audience forward. This instantly brought to mind something I read in Nancy Duarte’s book . It was the same back and forth structure and Nancy called this is called a sparkline, oscillating between what is and what could be. Current state and future state.

I thought that was pretty damn cool. In essence, your audience wants this contrast and tension. So introduce into your stories a back and forth of a core idea and you will leave them wanting for more. Well, at least more interesting than your old bland way of communicating. Introducing…

The Pendulum Rule

A surefire way to keep your audience engaged is making sure you are moving back and forth between the positive and negative ends of an idea or value.

 Here is an example of me trying to put this learning to use (I’m not presenting this story as the face of the pendulum rule, but my take on how to apply this learning):


I was an officer in the military years ago. We were on a 4 day routine training exercise and it was the last night, at about 3 in the morning. I remembered we were really tired as we hadn’t slept for days. I was sitting on top of the vehicle with my legs dangling down the hatch as it was too hot in the tank. The driver however, was in the hot armored vehicle, and he was looking through tiny green night vision screens. Kinda nuts driving using just 3 tiny green screens. So we reached the last portion of the road, and it was basically a straight shot back to camp. We have probably driven down this road dozens of times. We barreled to the end of road at about 40 miles an hour and came to a downward hair pin turn. The driver must have been too confident or too tired. Near the end of the road, the vehicle suddenly turned prematurely and we fell headfirst down the slope, hitting the ground with a big jolt. We were vertical. I was holding on with a death grip trying not to fall off the vehicle and was able to hold myself still. Luckily I kept from falling off. But at that instant I thought if the vehicle overturned, half my body would be inside and half outside. It would be a bloody mess. It felt like a long time, but must have been a split second but luckily the vehicle landed on its tracks. (sigh of relief). Routines are never routines you know, something is always different. We learned to treat any endeavor, any project, the respect it deserves no matter how many times “we’ve done it before”.

 

Breaking it down (the opposing values here are “routine means safety” vs. “routine is dangerous”):

Context
I was an officer in the military years ago. We were on a 4 day routine training exercise and it was the last night, at about 3 in the morning.

Dangerous
I remembered we were really tired as we hadn’t slept for days. I was sitting on top of the vehicle with my legs dangling down the hatch as it was too hot in the tank. The driver however, was in the hot armored vehicle, and he was looking through tiny green night vision screens. Kinda nuts driving using just 3 tiny green screens.

Safe
So we reached the last portion of the road, and it was basically a straight shot back to camp. We have probably driven down this road dozens of times.

Dangerous
We barreled to the end of road at about 40 miles an hour and came to a downward hair pin turn. The driver must have been too confident or too tired. Near the end of the road, the vehicle suddenly turned prematurely and we fell headfirst down the slope, hitting the ground with a big jolt. We were vertical.

Safe
I was holding on with a death grip trying not to fall off the vehicle and was able to hold myself still. Luckily I kept from falling off.

Dangerous
But at that instant I thought if the vehicle overturned, half my body would be inside and half outside. It would be a bloody mess.

Safe
It felt like a long time, but must have been a split second but luckily the vehicle landed on its tracks. (sigh of relief).

Conclusion
Routines are never routines you know, something is always different. We learned to treat any endeavor, any project, the respect it deserves no matter how many times “we’ve done it before”.

 

Does this structure for presentations and scripts apply to short stories? You bet.

 

Pulp-Fiction-Story-Chart

Courtesy of www.storycharts.ca A graphical representation of Robert McKee’s value and anti-value, point and counter point theory in his book Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting .

 

Nancy Duarte

A sparkline structure from Nancy Duarte’s book Resonate .

(#9story9 stats: 4/99 pieces of info digested, 4/33 posts)

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