Don't Be a Bore - These "Sins" Will Ruin Your Stories!

   At one time in the world's history story telling was integral to the survival of our earliest records. Before the proliferation of the written word, great story tellers and bards were responsible for documenting history with all its great accomplishments and stunning defeats. The times, they are a-changing.

Any major event these days is usually caught on film. The average person can afford to document their family history with inexpensive equipment. Online blogs have become the premiere story telling vehicles. Facebook and twitter statuses, now document everything from the completely inane, to major political events. In all of this "new" media, have people begun to lose their knack for story telling?

There are few things worse than being stuck listening to a story from someone who can't tell it. It is an exercise in complete frustration. People need to get better! Avoiding a couple of common story telling mistakes can change you from a complete bore, into the life of the party.

To me, the three story telling sins are as follows:

1. Telling them too slowly: This is horrible. The worst part is once you are invested in listening to these people you know it is going to be a long story because they are telling it so slowly. Their voice is monotone and they drag out each thought until you are ready to choke them. If you are telling a story - get to the point as quickly as possible while retaining all pertinent info. At least pretend like your story is important and animate your speech a bit. A little enthusiasm won't kill you.

2. Tangents: This is the worst. This will kill a story with a quickness. If you are telling a story about some intense showdown you had with a mugger...stick to that. A tangent about how you went out for ice cream, and they totally don't have that one ice cream you love, which is weird because it is like ALWAYS there! Did I mention the cashier looked just like Webster? It was uncanny, I was totally waiting for Mr. Kostoplous...Oh my god! What's his name again? What? Yeah thats it! OMG I can't believe I forgot that...OK where was I? At this point I don't know anymore and I certainly don't care. I am silently praying to all that is holy, you forget yourself and this farce comes to an end now. I might even jump in with my own Webster story because the thought of hearing your inane babble any longer makes me sick to my stomach. In conclusion...tangents are bad!

3. The Bad Story Warning: If anyone ever starts their story out with these words: "OK I suck at telling stories..." then RUN. The fact is, if someone is saying that it is because their stories are bad. People have let them know by either telling them or walking out of a room. At one time in my life, I genuinely thought that I would punch someone square in the nose as soon as they said that. I think any legal ramifications I incurred would have been off set by the time saved not listening to them prattle on. I never acted on it but I thought about it. Don't set your self up for failure. Be confident!

I am not claiming to be a great story teller. I am not claiming that at all. I am however, a fan of a great story. I can say with 100% confidence that no story I have ever heard that was told too slowly, went off in tangents or was prefaced ay a bad story warning has been great. They haven't even been good. In fact any story that matches all three of those criteria have been some of the worst moments in my history of social interaction. If you suck at telling stories, and if you do you know it, your first step should be to eliminate the above "sins". Try it for your next story and let me know how it works out for you. Just get to the point when you do!

Alternate History - What If

Alternate history is about what would have if the events of the past had turned out completely differently. For instance, what if the Germans had won World War II; what if Bill Clinton had been impeached during his hearing; what if the Confederates had won the American Civil War; or what if the British had won the Falkland War.

If we take alternate history, it assumes that things go the way as the actual history until a certain point, which is known as point of divergence. When this point is reached, the outcome of that particular event changes. In alternate history scenario, even small changes can have a profound effect because of the butterfly effect.

There are many alternate history stories floating around but most of them concentrate on politics of the past. Here alternate history tries to reconstruct what would have happened if the world leaders of past had made different decisions or what would have happened if different events had happened because of chance.

Alternate history should not be taken lightly. Many experts say that considering different scenarios, historians can actually help explain history as it really is.

Many authors have taken help from alternate history and used it to write novels and short stories. Here, the authors have used alternate history as a means of entertaining their readers. However, when one reads stories entailing What if... and the plot deals with real historical story but with a different outcome, the stories gives us a new perspective to think about.

Some times, reading alternate history makes us grateful for what we have. Imagine if the Confederates had won the American Civil War, slavery would have still been rampant and we would not have been living in a free world. Or, if Hitler had managed to win World War II, the most unspeakable atrocities would have been taking place in Europe and rest of the world even today.

Putting "Great" Into Your Next Story

What do all children love from the time they understand what their parents are saying? It's a love that will never tire for the rest of their lives. And it's true for most or all of the earth's population.

A good story! Everyone loves a good story. Just look and listen all around you...

We have 24 hours of story-telling on TV. Movies, syndicated shows from yesteryear, current shows, sitcoms, dramas, and news. Aside from hard facts, stories abound in the news. Books and magazines. Audio books that we listen to while driving!

Do you have a proverbial 'Uncle Joe' who tells great stories? I bet everyone knows at least one person who's a great storyteller. And notice the informal distinction we give these people. 'So and so' is a great storyteller! It's an accolade, an informal honor.

Before written, recorded history there was oral history. Stories told by the elders. One of the greatest books written over 2000 years ago is full of parables. Stories with an important message.

A good story has impact!

Imagine people's reactions if they were simply told to 'do good.' Those two words would be forgotten in five minutes. But their hearts, minds, and imaginations are captured with a story about 'doing good.'

Everyone loves a good story. And perhaps there isn't a better teacher of story on the planet than Robert McKee. He's universally regarded as the world's premier teacher of screenwriting.

Here's a little story for you...

In his book 'Story,' Robert McKee tells of his early days in Hollywood working as a reader. He analyzed screenplay submissions and gave his 'yes or no' recommendation. He anecdotally tells of his experiences as a reader.

After the first several hundred scripts, he felt he could produce an all-purpose script analysis. Here's what he had to say about his reading experience. It provides great insight into what NOT to do when crafting your next story.

" Nice description, actable dialogue...all in all, a script of well-chosen words. The story, however, sucks. The first thirty pages crawl on a fat belly of exposition; the rest never get to their feet. The main plot, what there is of it, is riddled with convenient coincidence and weak motivation. No discernible protagonist. Unrelated tensions that could shape into subplots never do. Characters are never revealed to be more than they seem. Not a moment's insight into the inner lives of these people or their society. It's a lifeless collection of predictable, ill-told, and clichéd episodes that wander off into a pointless haze. PASS ON IT."

Pretty brutal, isn't it?

But don't feel you need great literary talent to be a great storyteller. Surprisingly, or maybe not, frequently one has nothing to do with the other. And according to Mr. McKee, being able to tell a good story will usually win the day.

But...he's quick to point out all of that isn't enough to create a good story.

His personal lament concerns craft. In particular, how few seem to possess this craft. A good story is useless unless it's "well told." And learning to tell a good story well is craft. Learning and mastering the principles of story composition will elevate your good story into a great story.


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