I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free – Michelangelo Buonarroti
That is exactly how I work with stories and what I teach in my storytelling course. Great stories are not just about the moment you speak to your listener(s). It requires a bit of preparation and practise to get a story just right. One of the participants in my course even suggested I change the name of my course to “Storycrafting in Business”.
So how do you craft a story? Treat it like a diamond. Find a rough diamond and cut, polish and clean it.
Finding a rough story
Find a rough story can happen in two ways. Working from a purpose and from an interesting event.
When we are working from a purpose there is a reason we want to tell a story. Lets say I want to tell a story about my style of consulting. I am going to find an moments where I had to tell a client something they did not really want to hear, but needed to hear regardless.
Working from an event is realising something worthy of a story just happened and work towards a story for one or more purposes.
An example here is my last course, where I completely screwed up an example story. The lessons in there for me, and thus for others, is that a) other people’s stories are extremely hard to tell right and b) practise makes perfect in telling stories, even for me.
Cutting the story
This is where the hard work begins. Now that we have a rough story we need to quickly get it into a decent shape.
Just as with a diamond we need to sit down with the story and figure out what we want to do with it, what type of story do we have?
Then we split the story, leaving only the essentials before cutting it in a decent shape.
Type of story
In her excellent book Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins Annette Simmons introduces 6 types of stories. They each have a slightly focus and build up. So before we can start we need to figure out what kind of story we have. Is it a value story? Teach? Vision?
In my example it is going to be a teaching story.
Structure of a story
As I have described before in my blogpost 3 Phases in a Story there is the Context, Challenge and Celebration. What do I want to tell in each phase.
Context: I am qualified to tell a story. I have been professionally using stories for years. I have made and teach a storytelling course. I am about to give an important first course for the management team of a medium sized business.
Challenge: I think I am good enough to ignore my own advice. Tell someone else’s story without practice ‘in the wild’. I almost got away with it. Except I forgot the vital clue in my story.
Celebration: After swallowing my pride I was able to use the story to drive home those points.
Elements of a good story
Now that we have the bare structure of a story it is time to make it pretty. Dan and Chip Heath in their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die tried to figure out why we remember weird urban legends about stolen kidneys, but not our corporate mission statements. I have covered the result in “5 Elements of a Memorable Story“. I use those as a checklist to see what areas I still need to improve.
I am happy with the amount of Emotion in the story. Tension to want to tell a good story, the embarrassment of screwing it up and the relief of turning it around. Simple, Concrete and Credible are more than good enough. Only thing I am a bit low on is Unexpected. The only real unexpected in the story is that I am the one telling it and being proud of it.
Polish the story
This is the difficult part. Now that we have a good story we need to make it great. And that means polishing it. Tell the story to yourself, the mirror and your cat. But then go out, tell it and start using it. What works and what does not? Do your listeners feel the appropriate emotions? Is the unexpected unexpected enough? Does your point get across?
Every time you tell a story it gets better.
During the blogpost I have been polishing my example story. It is not done yet, I need to try it on some more people. But it is good enough to try.
Clean up the story
Now that you have that pretty, expensive diamond you want to show it to people. But before you do, take the time to clean it up.
You need to do the same with your stories. What do I need to change for this particular person/group? Do I need to explain something better? Can I skip over something? Do I need to change the ending of the story slightly to suit the purpose I need right now.
My story will change slightly depending on my audience. I can make it very specific about storytelling, or make it more generic to show you always need practice to be great at something.
The first time you tell a story it is going to suck. The first time I tell a story it is going to suck. The point is to recognise you have a rough diamond on your hands. And with a little bit of love, work, trial and error that story can transform into a great inspiration or source of learning for many.Tags: diamond, storycrafting