Telling the Simple Story

I’m working with a client whose story has tremendous detail. She will be asked questions during a deposition that require her to relate her experiences. The reasons and implications that instigate each action of her story create a maze of confusion as she strives to convey her experiences.  The problem lies in her desire to express the dramatic intensity of her memory. The solution lies in allowing the facts to speak for themselves.

Funny, I think back on my first year of Meisner training. In the early improvisational form you can only say what you see and/or how you feel. The difference between “It was horrible” and “I was horrified” is significant. Say the two thoughts out loud. It was horrible is not a fact, but I was horrified is the individual’s truth. Listen to the difference on how they affect you. We feel truth when we hear it.

Describe a scene. Now, don’t tell us how we should feel about it, tell us the details of what you tasted, touched, saw or heard. Here is where it can become tricky. Remember there can be a huge number of specifics possible to relay. In this case economy is often useful. Choose the significant facts which convey the most impact. Otherwise these moments can be watered down by generalities.

What will create the picture in the minds of your listeners? An easy beginning is to tell us the location. “We were standing on the beach.” “We were in the bedroom.” ” We were stepping on the ferris wheel at the carnival.” Say each one out loud. You should immediately have an image in your mind. Now that the mind is building the story, you can add detail.

The cause of the story event is important for the listener to follow the logic. Even if you say, ” I don’t know why the dog bit the little boy” you are still filling in the logical question which is “Why did the dog bite the boy?” You might have said, “The boy pulled the dog’s tail.” What we are looking for is the cause that brings the effect. Next relate the effect, i.e. the highest impact moment of the event, which in this case is the dog bit the boy. Then tell us how it was resolved; “It took the shop owner and three of his employees to pull the dog off.”

These four points convey simple, effective, factual storytelling. All of you writers out there don’t need any of this. Your structure is much more complex. But, the average hair dresser, accountant, or golf pro has spent a lifetime working on their unique ability and storytelling may not have played a part.

During important moments like court trials or business presentations where impromptu questions are answered, keep the rules simple. Give the brain just a few useful filters for these adrenalin filled experiences – which reminds me of a quote by Raymond Chandler: “A good story cannot be devised, it must be distilled.


 

 

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