Have you ever met those people who can’t seem to stop talking about themselves, or what happened with their spouse, their kids, etc.? Yeah, that’s not storytelling. That’s called a cry for attention, complaining, and/or self-indulgence. It’s most apparent on Facebook and some blogs. Facebook is the master of self-indulgence. And if you go to a blog and the blogger talks about themselves more than things others might find interesting, it’s called a self-indulgent blog. Storytelling, by definition, is the art of telling a story to entertain someone else.
Of course, we all indulge ourselves in some form or another. We have a right to be happy. But that’s not entertainment. That’s not storytelling. It’s just us being part of the audience.
What’s an example of an entertaining story? Try: “You won’t imagine what I saw on my way back home the other night. I had to walk because my car broke down. All the lights were out and I only had the light from my cell phone. My battery was running low and I could only guess I was going in the right direction. Finally, just as I was about to walk into a lit street, there in the bushes, I saw…”
It’s got a few elements that grab attention: 1) suspense, 2) fear, and 3) dealing with a tricky situation. A self-indulgent version would be:
“Urgh, I had to walk home last night after my car broke down. Such a piece of junk. The entire street was blacked out too, it was so frustrating. My stupid phone kept dying and I just wanted to cry. My boyfriend wouldn’t pick up his phone either, he’s such a d-bag. So then, I was right about to get out of this horrible dark street…”
I’m already asleep. Please, save the punch line. Maybe it will knock you out.
What we have to try to do instead is to make our stories relevant to the person we’re speaking to. That way they’ll grab onto what they want to get from it, and at the same time absorb the rest of the details.
Writing for yourself is like telling yourself a story, and only yourself. There are a few ways to figure out if this is the case:
1) Did you have a person or a group in mind when you were writing the story?
2) Have you imagined how this person/group might react to where the story was going?
3) Have you written scenes in the story that you didn’t necessary want to write but knew the person/group you were writing for might enjoy them?
The key here really is: were you thinking of anyone other than yourself and your characters when you wrote the story? After all, your characters are really an extension of yourself. Yes, it may also be important to make sure they get the best development they can, but sometimes it may not be a wise idea to put them before your readers.
Do you write for yourself or for an audience?
-The Story Addict