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Personal Stories – How To Get Better At Storytelling

Mostly True Memoirs

How to get better at storytelling

How To Get Better At Storytelling

Want to know how you can get better at storytelling?

I’ll tell you.

In three parts:

  • How to generate new ideas
  • How to write personal stories
  • How to be a better storyteller

How To Generate New Ideas

“You’ve got a story for every occasion,” I often hear.

It’s true.

I do.

It comes from a lifelong habit of observing.

I’m always watching.

And I take notes.

I write down what I see and what I hear.

And then I create stories from my notes.


Some stories are hilarious on their own.

Other stories aren’t funny until you collect a few on the same topic, and then you realize there’s a trend.


My advice to you?

Keep a journal.

Write everything down.

The smaller the feature, the better.

Humor is in the details.

Look for the little elements of a situation.

See how one thing is like another.

Or how one thing is so very different from another.

Your first journal stories might not be very revealing.

That’s OK.

Keep writing.

Keep observing.

Keep journaling.

Your stories will come together with practice.

How To Write Personal Stories

This one’s hard.

You don’t want to share too much personal information online.

You don’t want to embarrass or shame your family.

You need to develop some standards to measure against each story.

For example, I don’t identify my children.

I just call them both “The Grown Son.”

I don’t want to embarrass them.

I don’t want to divulge their personal information.

I don’t want to create any bad feelings within the family.


When I write stories about my husband, I make sure to always depict him as a devoted family man and a pillar of the community.

If a story doesn’t meet that standard, I won’t publish it.

I’ll poke gentle fun at him, but if a story would tarnish his good reputation, it’s not a story that will get posted.

If I wouldn’t want that story posted about me, I won’t post it about him.


Regarding my friends, I make a point to be vague.

Some people don’t want to be all over the internet.

I get it.

I keep my stories about friends and colleagues very generalized.


They know if the story is about them, and they are free to comment and join the conversation.

Or not.

I’m very aware of other people’s privacy.

How To Get Better At Storytelling

It’s easy to have that idea in your head.

It’s very difficult to put it into writing.

I have three recommendations for how to be a better storyteller.

1. Don’t Edit and Write at the Same Time

Just write that first draft.

I call it the vomit draft.

Just vomit the words onto the paper.

That’s your first draft.

From there, you can edit it into something workable.


So often, people will be stuck trying to draft the perfect first line.

The problem is that you can’t draft a first line until you have the rest of the story to draw from.

I don’t compose the first line until after I’ve written the story.

A great way to wrap up a story is to circle the closing line back to the opening line.

For example, if you write a bit about oranges, your first line might be, “Who doesn’t love oranges?” and your closing line might be, “That’s why I love oranges.”

You have to write the piece out to know what you’re dealing with before you can write those brilliant opening and closing lines.

2. Cut Your Word Count

After you’ve written your vomit draft, cut your wordcount by half.

Seriously.

In half.

You’ve heard that if you have to explain a joke, it’s not funny.

The same thing applies to stories.

If you have to over-explain your scenario, then it’s not working.

Get to the point and get there quickly.

Don’t use a ten-dollar word when a ten-cent word would do.

If you have to quibble over the grammar, find a simpler way to say it.

Cut out as many adjectives, adverbs, and dialogue tags as you can.

Your story will have so much more impact if it is told with fewer but more powerful words.


3. Don’t Try Too Hard To Be Funny

Subtle Humor Is Funnier Than a Pie In the Face

If you write a story about a crazy person who is in an outrageous situation and something outlandish happens to them, that’s overkill.

It’s not funny.

Instead, take a regular person and put them in a regular situation and then have something unusual happen.

It’s the Rule of Three.

Two normal things plus one unusual thing equals a funny situation.

It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.


Keep It Clean

Foul language and edgy topics get old quickly.

They’re good for one laugh.

Maybe two.

After that, you lose your audience.

You’ll might get one big laugh with the dirty stuff.

But it doesn’t have staying power.

Some of the big-named comedians can pull it off.

But most of us aren’t celebrities.

Most of us can’t pull off the dirty stuff day after day after day.

Keep it clean, and write with substance rather than shock value.


Don’t Be Mean

It’s hard, sometimes, to resist the urge to stick it to somebody.

But don’t do it.

Being mean says more about the writer than it does about the subject.

It says that you are petty and vindictive and unlikeable.

Don’t do it.

Make your jokes self-deprecating.

When you make fun of yourself, you are humble, friendly, and real.

This is an engaging quality for any storyteller.

Just be careful not to overdo it.

You want your audience to laugh with you.

 But you don’t want your audience to pity you.


How To Get Better At Storytelling

So there you have it.

This is how I generate new ideas.

This is how I write personal stories.

This is how to get better at storytelling.

Now it’s your turn.

Look around you.

Take notes.

Create some fabulous stories.

Let me know when they’re ready, I’d love to read them!


Did you learn anything? Scroll down and post a comment – I promise I’ll respond!

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How To Be Funnier With This One Technique

Mostly True Memoirs

How to be funnier with this one technique


How To Be Funnier

You can learn how to be funnier.

I’ve given this lesson many times.

I’ve taught it to my public speaking classes.

I’ve taught it to my ESL classes.

I’ve even given this presentation to my Toastmasters clubs.

This lesson is always a ton of fun.

A joke has three parts.

The setup, the pause, and the punchline.

Most people think that the punchline is the most important part of the joke.

But it’s not.

The pause is the most important part of the joke.

Without the pause, you sound like a six-year-old who has just discovered riddles.

Whydidthechickencrosstheroadtogettotheothersidebwahahaha

It’s not funny.

Try it this way:

First deliver the setup.

Next, pause and count to three.

After the pause, deliver the punchline.

The pause makes the punchline that much funnier.

Try practicing this technique with the chicken-crossing-the-road joke.

Pausing is hard because it feels awkward to be silent when people are looking at you.

But if you can master that pause, your jokes will be so much more effective.

You will learn how to be funnier.

Scroll down and post a comment – I promise I’ll respond!

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The Grammar Police is Watching!

Mostly True Memoirs

The Grammar Police Is Watching!

The Grammar Police is Watching!

I hate the grammar police.

I know, I’m an editor.

I’m supposed to correct grammar.

But I don’t.

Unless I’m working.

Correcting other people is obnoxious.

Especially on social media because it’s so easy to make a typo.

I do it myself often enough.

I try to be very forgiving.

But sometimes

I saw a St. Patrick’s Day post from a public service agency.

It urged the public to “Drink Responsively.”

Aaarrrghhh!

That post caused me physical pain.

Responsive drinking is just another name for peer pressure.

It means the exact opposite of what they were trying to say.

Responsibly is the right word.

Drink Responsibly is what that post should have said.

OK, I got that out of my system.

I need a green St. Patrick’s Day beer.

I’ll drink it responsibly.

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Lifestyle Work

A Larry McMurtry Tribute

Mostly True Memoirs

A Larry McMurtry tribute

A LARRY McMURTRY TRIBUTE

The Modern Art Museum is hosting a Larry McMurtry tribute all month.

They’re showing the movies and hosting a discussion.

This weekend, we went to see The Last Picture Show.

I loved the book, but I had never seen the movie.

I’m glad I went.

The movie was very true to the book.

At home I tried to watch Texasville, which is the sequel.

But I couldn’t find the movie streaming anywhere.

I watched Hud instead.

The film strayed from the book, but it was still a great movie.

McMurtry’s books were very controversial when they were first published.

My mother used to hide them.

I’m not sure if she hid them from me or if she hid them for me.

I always found them and read them.

I’m certain she knew.

She would have loved this McMurty tribute.

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Lifestyle Work

A Nice Problem To Have

Mostly True Memoirs

A nice problem to have

A NICE PROBLEM TO HAVE

I was reading two books at the same time.

And then three books I had on hold with Overdrive came in all at once.

Now I’m juggling a bunch of books.

I have several other items on hold.

I hope they don’t come in this week.

I’m kind of busy.

Too many books is a very nice problem to have.

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Lifestyle Work

I Want All The Details!

Mostly True Memoirs

Come back, Lady, come back!

SUCH SUSPENSE! COME BACK, LADY, COME BACK – I WANT ALL THE DETAILS!

I want all the details!

I met a woman briefly on a Zoom call.

She said that her husband had been a priest for 20 years.

He left the church for her.

And then she disappeared from the meeting.

I didn’t even catch her name.

But I want to hear what happened.

It’s The Thorn Birds meets Fleabag.

Kind of.

Come back, Lady, COME BACK!

I want all the details!

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I Don’t Have a Contract With You

Mostly True Memoirs

I don't have a contract with you

I DON’T HAVE A CONTRACT WITH YOU

An English teaching account that I haven’t worked for in years has been contacting me to substitute.

“I don’t have a contract with you,” I always respond, “Please take me off your mailing list.”

They continue to send requests.

I am tempted to accept the job.

And then not show up.

What are they going to do?

Cancel my contract?

That might get me off their mailing list.

But I won’t do it.

It’s unprofessional.

The students would be the ones to suffer.

I always love the students, even if I don’t love the admin.

I have stopped responding to their requests.

I’m hoping that ignoring them will get me off their mailing list.

So far it hasn’t worked.

But I’ll keep trying.

Or not trying.

Whatever.

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A Woman Named Humble

Mostly True Memoirs

A woman named Humble

A WOMAN NAMED HUMBLE

Many of my English students adopt English names.

It’s not just for my class, it is for their entire business and professional identity.

In one particular corner of the world, the entire population seems to have perused the same outdated baby-naming book.

I have a lot of 30-year-old Herberts and Mildreds as students.

Some of them, however, choose random words for their names.

Today I had a woman named Humble in my class.

She probably saw a list of other virtue names such as Faith or Grace or Hope and assumed that Humble would work too.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that a humble person would never call herself humble.

Only a braggart would do that.

If she had asked for my opinion before she chose her name, I would have told her.

At this point, it’s none of my business.

I carried on with the class.

But I cringed whenever I said her name.

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My Wheeled Office Chair

Mostly True Memoirs

My wheeled office chair

MY WHEELED OFFICE CHAIR

My home office has a polished concrete floor.

I like to zoom around the room on my wheeled office chair.

Yeah, I know, I’m easily entertained.

The other day, I heard a metallic clinking sound.

I looked around to see what fell.

I saw nothing, and I was busy, so I forgot about it.

Last night, when I launched myself across the room, disaster struck.

Apparently the clinking sound I heard was hardware falling off of the underside of the seat.

Mid zoom, the chair disintegrated, and I careened to the floor in a pile of rubble.

I now have a golf-ball sized welt on my keester with a blossoming purple and green bruise.

And the chair is DOA.

Will I continue to zoom in my new chair?

Of course.

I won’t give up on that kind of entertainment.

However, I will now periodically tighten all the screws.

One pain in the a** is more than enough.

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They Can’t Block Me


Mostly True Memoirs

they can't block me

THEY CAN’T BLOCK ME

I was in a Zoom meeting.

One man mentioned that he had seen the Blue Man Group.

I burst out laughing.

I thought about the Blue Man Group story line on Arrested Development.

“I’m afraid I just blue myself,” never stops being funny.

No one in this group had seen Arrested Development.

They did not understand the reference.

What a crushing disappointment.

These folks could all use the Method One acting clinic.

I will spend the rest of the day quoting Tobias Funke lines to my family.

They can’t block me.

Can they?