How to Tell Good Stories


Is it just me or are many people unable to tell good stories anymore? I’m disappointed when friends describe their unique experiences in bland, humdrum ways. Otherwise compelling narratives about skydiving or Caribbean cruises are watered down by abstractions and generalizations until they’re as exciting as staring at grout between bathroom floor tiles while taking a dump. Except the stories aren’t as satisfying as the dump.

Friends have told me stories of how they fired off the 75mm cannon of an M4 Sherman tank or became so frustrated with a first date they simply stood up and left. “What was it like to man the turret?” I ask. “How did your date react?” I want to see and hear the scene. Give me concrete nouns and action verbs. I want raw experience not digested abstraction. If you can tell your story like a piece of journalism, even better.

That’s why I’m thankful for radio programs like This American Life and non-profit organizations like The Moth that promote the art of spoken storytelling. A well-crafted story captures an audience’s attention and delivers a message that sticks.

It’s not realistic nor am I demanding that people utter Homeric epics or Shakespearean sonnets every time they recount a story. I’m just tyring to raise the bar of anecdotal narrative. There doesn’t have to be a moral at the end or a plot with exposition, climax, and dénouement. I only ask that you make yourself entertaining because if you get my attention you better make it worth my while.