What people really want to learn about story

When I started StoryCraft in 2017, I was excited, thrilled even, to teach people about story structure so they could tell better stories. What I didn’t know then was that people didn’t need story structure, they really wanted to learn something else.

My first clue was when clients and workshop participants asked over and over again how to find the right story. It turns out we are overflowing with story doubt. 

  • My story is boring.
  • My story is mundane.
  • Who wants to listen to me?
  • I ramble on too much.
  • What do people want to know about me?
  • Who wants to listen to me?

The irony here is that we are also all so very (very) hungry for story. We consume books and series and movies at an unbelievable rate. In fact, I read an article over the weekend that game shops are doing well these days because people have seen what they want to see on Netflix. How many hours of Netflix do you need to see everything you want to see? It boggles the mind.

We also follow people we know, admire, or despise on Facebook and Instagram and LinkedIn for real stories. We piece together bits of stories and comments and Tik Tok videos to create a story for ourselves of what’s going on in the world when we aren’t there.

There’s the tension here. On the one hand, this hesitation to tell our own stories and on the other hand, an almost primal hunger for story, story, more story. Not surprising that, since Jonathan Gottschall has described our evolutionary need for story. Story has kept us alive through the ages.

What I tried

For a while, I’ve been creating workshops and worksheets that guide participants through the story finding process. I’ve reassured you all that there is no such thing as boring stories. I’ve written about how everyday moments make great stories if you use the right perspective.

The penny didn’t drop until this weekend, though. Last week, I was on a panel discussion about Reclaiming Narrative. You can watch the replay on YouTube. The question was about how to be a hero in your own story. I’ve addressed heroes in stories before, even the fact that you should be including yourself in your stories. So, I answered the question. Now again for you.

Here are some things you need to know about making yourself the hero in a story.

The hero is a necessary role in a story, like the bad guy or the mentor. The hero determines the perspective of the story. Heroes are flawed. Perfect is boring. A story is only a story if the hero is transformed in the story. Stories are always in progress. You are always in progress. You must be the hero of your story because otherwise it’s someone else’s story.

What I realized later was that this wasn’t a lesson in story structure. This was a little bit empowerment, in the sense that your story is yours and you can tell it. But more than that, it was permission. Permission to be the hero. You must be the hero.

You are a hero.

The lesson

My big realization is that there are a lot of people who want to tell stories, who want to tell their story, but are caught in tremendous self-doubt not just about what goes in the story but over whether they should tell their stories at all, or not.

So today, I want to say this.

You are unique. Everything about you is something that can have happened to you. Everything you do, only you can do it the way you do it. We don’t know anything about you unless you tell us. 

When you tell your story, when you claim your narrative, it’s like putting a flag on Mt. Everest. You claim your territory. You are your own territory. No one else can tell you what your story is. 

The first step to claiming that story, though, is telling it. That’s telling it messy, telling it confused, telling it wrong. And then telling it again and again and again until you find the story that feels right for you because it is right for you.

Tell your story. Please tell your story. We’re waiting for it.

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