I was at my recent gym workout and the instructor was working hard to keep us focused and energized. We were sweating and frantically trying to keep up with our jumping jacks and he suddenly smiled and said, “you know I just remembered that when I was a child, my cat used to swipe his claws at the flapping underarms of my mother!” Most of the class started laughing along with the instructor and then he said something very important. “Isn’t it weird” he said, “we can’t remember most numbers or even names, but we remember the silly things that made us smile or cry when we were younger”. That is the key to great storytelling.
When you meet someone, what do you remember about them? Their eyes, their laugh, how they smelled? Gathering information for a story should include these things. Describing the quirky, intense, funny, or disturbed subject of your story will help your viewers understand the story better. It will help them decide where the truth lies. Most importantly, it will help them remember the story just like my gym instructor remembered his mother’s jiggly arms.
I am asked all the time, “what is the key to great writing”? There is no key. It’s a full key ring of tricks and observations and those keys mean nothing if they are not in your hands with your heart connected. Listening and observing are big. Be empathetic. You need the ability to filter out the noise and focus on the purpose of your story. Then, you need to take everything you have unlocked with the keys and unlock just one door.
Your story, whether it’s in print, digital or broadcast, must “touch” someone or something in someone or else it will never be remembered. We are all bombarded with thousands of marketing images every day. Logos, billboards, digital pop-up ads, tv commercials are all bashing our brains trying to make a mark. Your story is all part of that barrage of information. Most stories get lost. The ones that don’t will live in the hearts and minds of the viewer forever.
It’s the jiggly stuff under our mother’s arm. It made us smile. It touched our soul. We will never forget it. It’s not the most important piece of information, but it’s the observation or the understanding that will make the rest of our story be remembered.