Telling storiesWhen I read yesterday’s Daily Tootzypop, I had to swallow a laugh. You see, it was titled “In Celebration of Being Short,” and began:

“Long or short? That is my query, as I wiggle my way into my monolithic mound of bed pillows. Sounds kinky, huh?…”

I’ve been watching Sex and the City recently, usually an episode or two before I turn in for the night, so you can see where my mind went. As it turned out, DT was talking about short stories v. regular books, and this made me think of the former in a whole different light. DT goes on to say:

“Short stories are what many of us grew up on. Come on, did you think that Little Red Riding Hood or Pinocchio were characters in a novel? Short stories are incredibly conducive to our brave new technological world of short tangents and even shorter attention spans; they are wonderfully condensed microcosms of a bigger world.”

As PR professionals, we advise our clients to tell their stories in a way that will resonate with their desired audiences; often we are hired to do this for them. Learning to create these histories (whether for our clients, or for our own businesses) as a compendium of good short stories – maybe even great ones! – instead of one long narrative is a much more interesting way to do this. Isn’t it also more in keeping with how life really works?

Do you remember the time…

Think back to your own life experience. Sure, there is an overall story arc to your path. But my guess is that rather than just being the main character in your own story, you’ve also been (or are, or might be) a supporting character in someone else’s story, the hero in someone else’s, the villain in someone else’s, and so on. Maybe you were the supportive best friend in one, or the armchair therapist in another.

And even in your own life, there are countless stories that began and ended as you made your way forward; stories from your childhood, stories from your adolescence, stories from your salad days, all with characters that shimmered in and out of them, some more constant than others.

Good storytelling

And when you remember and relate these stories, you tell them in much less time than the events actually took to occur, don’t you? You’ll use words and phrases that evoke the essence of that time. You’ll use direct instead of indirect speech. You’ll create, perhaps unconsciously, a crescendo for the narrative, taking your audience (whether they’re viewers, listeners, or both) with you. And you’ll do this in just the right amount of time, so that your audience stays with you.

Good bloggers do this all the time. They’ll tell us stories of their lives, or they’ll relate experiences or memories that stand alone as moments in time. They do this in a way that draws us in, that keeps us coming back for more. They’ll use all the techniques I’ve mentioned above, and oftentimes several others, and at the end of the story, they’ll leave us thinking.

The question

So, instead of just trying to tell “the story,” what if we started to tell “the stories,” shorter though they might be? What if we looked at the stories from every possible angle, from the viewpoint of every possible character, and told those stories instead? Wouldn’t that be much more interesting, not to mention attracting the attention of the characters themselves?

My guess is that we’ll find so much raw material at hand, we won’t know what to do with it. If we’re daring and adventurous, this is where the fun starts. Sometimes we call in agencies, or consultants, to help us out. But if we’re really wimpy, we just bury the treasure we just unearthed and go on telling a long, tall tale that perhaps people don’t want to hear any more.

And what a shame that would be. Because when people don’t want to hear our stories any more, chances are the day they don’t want to do business with us any more isn’t far behind.

Image by Dave C from Evergreen, CO, USA (Stories) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke