Stories last even when the words fade. Storytelling is how we transfer experiences; your readers can visualize your story, you appeal not only to their intellect but to their senses, emotions, sense of order or recognition. Joshua Gowin in Psychology Today recounts research that reveals “telling stories builds empathy and . . . when you tell a good one, people act as if they’re watching it unfold before them.”
There are many different types of stories we’ll be exploring in this blog; one of the easiest to start with is the personal story because it grows out of your own lived experience. A personal story can connect you with your readers when your experiences resonate with theirs or when you describe your experiences so vividly that your readers feel as if they are right there with you. So how do you write a story that will connect with your readers?
Let’s say you are writing a blog post on bullying, and you want to tell a story of a time you stood up to a bully who took some of your Halloween candy. You can start by freewriting about the incident to prepare for a more focused brainstorming on an element that storytellers sometimes overlook: sensory detail. In our bullying story, you might think about a piece of candy that you were very sorry to lose. Spend some time brainstorming about the taste of that candy. Then go on to what it smells like. What does is feel like in your mouth? What sounds do you hear as you unwrap it? Why was this candy particularly attractive to you? Do you have memories associated with it? Really focusing in on both the sensory and associative details of the vital parts of your story can translate into a story that touches your readers. Do this exercise for the costume you wore, for the way the bully was dressed, the street where it occurred, etc. Would you rather read:
He took my candy bar.
He robbed me of my Almond Joy with its sweet memories of the Hawaiian
coconuts my grandfather and I had gathered on our final vacation together.
With the second sentence, you’ve raised the stakes and provided a reason why you may have had the courage to stand up to that bully. There are a few things to keep in mind when telling a story:
- Your story should have an obvious connection to the point of your blog, something to interest the reader and provide a context for what follows; it should have some sort of conflict or obstacle to overcome; finally, it needs to resolve that problem to give a sense of closure.
- If your story includes other people, disguise their identity or ask yourself (or better yet, ask them) how they would feel reading this story.
- Ask yourself whether this story could hurt you or your reputation; could it affect your day job? We’ve all heard stories of people fired from their jobs for what they put on the internet.
Make a connection with your readers; exercise the power of storytelling.