That brings us to tip number eight, create a likable narrator. I think this is my favorite tip. I know I've said that about every tip. But this tip is so exciting because it's counterintuitive. The narrator is the eye in the story. It's the main character, it's you. And we all wanna tell stories, and then we want everyone to love us, right? Now, what we really want, well, we probably wanna be loved, yeah, I do. But the way to be loved is to be trusted and understood. So what's awesome about this, the idea behind creating a likable narrator, goes back to writing the truth. It's all about writing the truth. And what's kind of interesting is that the more you reveal, even if you reveal ugly stuff about yourself, the more you are trusted. So like, let's say that you're writing a story about how your mom yelled at you for no reason all the time when you were a kid. Now, if you're a mom and you tell us that you sometimes yell at your kids for no reason, then we trust you. We trust that you'r...
e telling us the truth about your mom. You're not just vilifying your mom. Same with that narrator who I was talking earlier about being entitled. This is the moment where it is so important for that narrator, if she is going to describe an entitled populous and that wouldn't be hard, she would have to do the hard work of turning the camera around and describing herself as also entitled. Now, this doesn't always, always work because well, lemme get to this in a second. So, one thing I wanna say is that people, they want to show themselves as awesome. But writing a story, by writing a story, you are awesome enough. You just have to trust that. And then you also have to remember that what works in a resume does not work in a story. Like no one cares how great you are. Again, we are connecting to people in stories because we connect to their vulnerability. So you have to be willing to be vulnerable. We love flawed characters. Just think of Rizzo in Grease, right? We love Rizzo, and you know what? She's mean. She sings that song, you know? Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee? We also love Danny Zuko. And he's the total jerk the whole time. So ... what we're trying to get to is that vulnerability. So I have some tips on how you can get to your, I call it ugly, but by ugly I mean vulnerability. I mean your truth. And the way to do it is to tell the truth without leaving out the good parts. Dig deep. Being a narrator who is self-knowing is the most, like, delicious thing to read. And the way to know yourself or the way to like, kinda one trick to kinda think about who are you is to look at yourself maybe how your partner sees you, or how your children see you, or how your parents see you, or your best friend sees you. Like really consider how someone else sees you. I think one way, a really interesting and easy way to get to your ugly is to use self-deprecation. Like you might as well knock yourself down a rung before your reader does. If it's true for you, if that's your style. Again, be vulnerable. Vulnerability is what we connect to in a story. I think I've said, I'm saying the same thing over and over again because that matters so much. That's the most important thing about writing. And one other way to get to your ugly is to be the biggest jerk in your story. So, I asked you earlier to write down moments when you were a big jerk.
Time when I was a big jerk. In my 20s in general. I cheated on my boyfriend and didn't tell him. I got drunk and fucked my friends without asking my partner or girlfriend. I yelled at my father, I yelled at my mother. I got in ridiculous, angry arguments with men for the sake of it. I drank too much and was a big jerk.
Wow! I wanna hear about every single one. I love this narrator, what a jerk! Perfect! Really, because we are all jerks. Right? Except for there was one person who had trouble getting to their jerk this morning. Yes, lemme, oh, that was you? (laughing) We're all jerks except her. Okay, who else? Let's hear some other jerky jerks, jerky times.
I'm a jerk right now. I'm a jerk to my friends, and to my family. Just kind of drawing myself into a cocoon. Had a death in the family, and usually when there's a death in the family, I think that people want to only fold into their family, and I am isolating myself. I'm a big jerk right now.
Oh, that's beautiful, so beautiful. I know I asked for this narrator to tell us when she was a jerk, but I think this story is about the need to not be folded into her family right now, which might not be a jerky thing. It's important to explore it. It's such an important story. Why is that happening right now? It always goes back, or sometimes, a story, the why. It's like why? Why am I acting like that? Why can't I be around my family right now when someone just died? She feels bad about it, but I bet that when this narrator, this is one of those moments that I'm guessing that when this narrator writes this story and figures herself out, she might feel less judgmental toward herself for being that way.
I tend to be a jerk, it seems like around parenting, a jerky mom. And one specific thing that sticks out for me as a jerky mom was passing on my baggage to my beautiful daughter around wearing holey tights, a tight with a hole in the bum, to kindergarten.
Oh, wow, okay. First of all, I love a jerky mom. No one I love more. Why? Because most moms aren't willing to admit that they're jerks and most moms are. Because we're human. And this narrator did a really great thing. She actually has a specific moment where she was a jerk with the hole in the, did she say bum? Wow, okay, I wanna know everything about that, that bum situation. Thank you and thank you for admitting that. That's good. Okay, let's have one more jerky person.
So, I was house-sitting for my friend who had just moved into the house she had bought, and I was washing the dishes and I was careless. And the brand new dishes as her housewarming present got a chip in the bowl. And I was like, what do I do? Do I tell her about it? Or do I not tell her? And so I put the dish on the very bottom of the stack of eight dishes and I faced it so it was facing the back and I didn't say anything. (laughing)
Oh, that's good, that's so funny. It's like this one little thing, but it does reveal a jerky character trait. I wanna know why this narrator did that. Why didn't she just fess up? And maybe she has a long history of not being able to fess up. Maybe, actually maybe she did fess up once when she was a kid and got really, you know, got in big, bad trouble for it. So I wanna know, I wanna know this why. I wanna know the story behind the chip and the lie. That's good, that's a good story. Did you see also what she just did? It's like one very specific, same with the bum. Excellent. Okay, there's two more things I wanna say which is that you don't have to be the biggest jerk in the world. You just have to be the biggest jerk in your story. And also, I wanna say that that's not always true because there might be times when there is a bigger jerk in your story. Like if you have survived abuse or something. And in that case, it's really important to paint those other characters as well-rounded as possible to try to understand them without making excuses for them. But most important, it's always so important to turn the camera around on you and try to see yourself. Memoir, personal stories, it's about you. Okay, I have ... I have another quick example of a time when, when I turned the camera around on me. I called my wife in the middle of the day, and she has a job so I was totally psyched when she answered the phone. And I was like, "Hey baby, "I have something really important to tell you." And actually, what was happening for me was I was figuring out, I'd been writing a memoir for like, five years, and I was figuring out the like, sort of the through line, like what it was about. It turned out she was at lunch by herself, so she talked to me. And it was like one of those conversations. You know how when you're having a conversation and you're like going back and forth and like all your brain is firing back and forth, and that's what was happening. She was like, "Yeah, and then, and then, and then what? "And then, oh yeah." And it was like I was about to solve world peace and she said, "Oh baby, I have to go. "My soup's here, I need two hands." So, that's a moment where again, like I wanted the attention and then it got cut off. There's a sexual term for that I won't use. But it's not a story yet. Telling you that is just like I could go on and like, just bitch about how my wife is just like, gahh, she's so bad at listening! And I've done that with friends. So, but before I wrote a story, I knew that I needed to look at myself. So what I did was I called my mom. And I said, "Mom, what kind of animal needs two hands "to eat soup?" And she said, "Be nice to Vicky." And I said, "Whose mom are you?" And she said, "Come on, Vicky's tired. "Maybe, maybe she just can't take in another word." And I got off the phone and I was like, dang, maybe I talk too much. So I gave myself a secret challenge. 24 hours without talking about me. No use of the word I. I couldn't even initiate conversation. It was so hard. Vicky and I had a date last night. We spent the night, we went out. I spent the whole night like, mm, mmhmm, mm, mmhmm. And ... she talked a lot. She's really interesting. And as she spoke, I thought, wow, Vicky likes to be listened to. And then I thought, yeah, everybody likes to be listened to. And then I thought how insightful I was to have such an insight. (audience laughing) And the story goes on like that, but what happened in that story is I turned the camera around on myself and I realized, oh, wow, sometimes I talk too much. And sometimes it's a really good idea to listen. Vicky loved it, loved it. She's like, when I told her the truth of what I was doing, she was like, "Oh my god! "Everyone should do that for each other." Like I thought she would be pissed, but she wasn't. Okay, so I have one more story that I wanna show you from Writing Class Radio, which reveals a likable narrator. And this was written by Misha Mehrel. Oh, and I wanna tell you that in the bonus material, you get this full episode. And the episode is about creating a likable narrator. It's called A Likable Narrator: Be the Biggest Asshole in Your Story. Here we go.
I think more than I do. And the kind of thoughts I have are not always that interesting, either. The other day, I sat in the coffee shop, glaring at this barista, an incredibly attractive, tall young man with a perfectly groomed beard, treating everyone with this smug charm. I sat there and thought about what makes some hot guys the worst (beep) people on the planet. I fumed as I saw him thwart eye contact with customers and apathetically call up, "Small iced coffee." (beep) Him, I (beep) hate him. He's so god (beep) big and perfectly toned. He'd beat the (beep) out of me. I asked Mia, my girlfriend who'd been sitting next to me this entire time, "Hey, "do you think I could beat that guy up?" She looked at me with such bewilderment and just said, "No." (audience laughing) She then started laughing, "Misha, no, no way." A few days later, I saw him sitting at the cafe on his off his shift. And he was studying out of a big GRE test book. I realized he's just another guy trying to make something out of himself, do something with his life. (beep) I thought, I guess he's not so bad. You see, I spent about a week thinking about this guy, only to finally decide he's just a guy I don't know and is probably fine. But just as soon as I arrived at that thought, I remembered how (beep) he was, and how smug and (beep) he was. And I fell right back. (beep) Him, I thought.
All right, this guy cannot even speak without cursing, every other line. Though he is committed to writing the way he speaks, that's good. He brings up violence. He hates this guy for no reason. He's a total jerk. But I love him. He is the guy that I would trust, I would trust him with any story. So, right? Are you guys with me on? He also, he also tried to understand the barista for a second. He did, he was doing the work. But he was also still committed to hating him for no reason. Excellent. So, I wanted to give you another example of telling the truth in a story where, where you would think that telling the truth might not be the most, the smartest thing to do. I was teaching a class, because it works in every kind of writing. I was teaching a class with, sometimes I teach like, entrepreneurs or business people, and I was teaching a class of realtors. And I, the point was to get them to articulate why they do what they do so that they can get more clients. And I gave the prompt, the moment you knew this work was for you. Now, I will say that I have a lot, some of my best friends are realtors. I know a ton of realtors and I only know one realtor who loves houses, who's like really passionate about houses. So, I was interested to see what these realtors would say. And one guy raised his hand and he told the story, and his story was like this really beautiful story about how the first time he handed over the keys to that young couple, and I think they had a baby, and he felt this pride in giving them home and a future. And then he relayed that he inherited this sense of pride from his dad who was a car salesman. And he told the story of his dad's story of the first time he handed over the keys to this woman who drove off the lot in her Ford Fairlane. And it was all about freedom. I mean, this story couldn't have been more beautiful. And I was starting to hear some holes in it. And then he told me, he told us, that his dad said, "I support you in doing any kind of work you want. "Just don't be a car salesman." So then I'm like, all right, wait a minute. And this is all about authenticity. Storytelling is about being true, writing the truth, being authentic. I was like, um, sorry to be harsh on you right now 'cause this is a first draft and all first drafts are good. But if your dad loved selling cars and was proud, why would he tell you not to sell cars? There was like a logical problem here. There's a problem with, you know, like, believability. He was like this big kind of gorgeous guy, and I said, "Are you an athlete?" And he said, "Yeah, yeah, you know, "yeah, I wrestled in high school." I was like, "Was your dad an athlete?" "Yeah, he played football." And I was like, okay, I think this story is about, about winning. Making the sale and getting the win. And maybe that's what this narrator inherited from his dad, this love of winning. And you know what? It might not seem like, why would you wanna hire a realtor who loves winning? But you know what? I do. I would wanna hire a realtor who loves to win, who wants to make that sale, who's so competitive they're gonna do whatever they can, and that's like their pride is winning. And his dad had the same thing and now that's why he does what he does. So even in the case of business, it's so important to be a likable narrator, and by that I mean write the truth, and be willing to be vulnerable.
Bonus Materials with Purchase
Places to Submit & Read Great Personal Essays
Editing Tips for Stories Meant to Be Told Out Loud