Figuring Out What the Story is About
That brings us to tip number seven, what is your story about? This is probably the second most important tip. Number one being, write the truth. But figuring out what your story is about is the thing that differentiates a situation and a story. So a story needs to have two parts to rise to the level of what someone might publish, and what someone else might read. What you, what goes beyond just what you would tell your friends at a bar. Those two parts are the thing that happens in the story, and number two is the reason you're telling that story. So it's up to you as the narrator to tell us exactly why, or to figure out throughout the writing exactly why you're writing the story. How did you change, or what did you learn? So let's talk for a second about Elizabeth's story. Can anyone tell me what was the action. What was the what of that story? What was going on in that story? Any brave people? What was happening?
She was describing attempting to get dressed.
Perfect, absolutely. ...
That was the situation. Woman in her bathroom putting on dresses, taking off dresses, sweating off her shower. Trying to get dressed, not doing a great job of it. What, why can anyone guess why did Elizabeth tell us that story? What did she learn? Or what, what about, why do we care, really? That's what this is about. This is about raising the stakes to make your reader care. Why do we care that she was having trouble getting dressed? What did she tell us, ultimately? You had it. Anyone? This actually is hard, and this is a question that I ask of every student, of every story, and of myself, every single time. What is this story about? What do you think?
Is it about a lack of fashion?
And she just maybe want us, some of us to relate to her?
I don't know if she wants us to relate, of course she does, yes, she wants us to relate to her. And she's, and she's relating that she is really bad at getting dressed. But I think, what I think, the reason she's telling us this story is to, what she learns is like, oh my god, I don't fit in as a woman in modern-day American mainstream society. And even if that's not true for any of us, again, like it's, it is true that we all wanna fit in. So that's what I think that story is about. Okay, I told you earlier that my, I was in the middle of telling my vows, when my 80 year old uncle collapsed. So, after I got married, for about a year, maybe two, I told everybody, like, hey how are you? Oh my god, you won't believe it. My uncle died in the middle of my vows, and then came back to life. And people kept saying, you gotta write about that. And I kept saying, why? Like that's it. That's, you know. I just told you, what's the story there? Why would I tell that story? But a few years later, what happened to me was, I was, I told you earlier that one of my obsessions is getting attention. Okay. So I started to think about that moment when my uncle went down. And I reframed the story. I, like this. I was in the middle of telling my vows, and I worked on my vows for weeks, maybe months. It was the most important speech of my life. I'd actually, my wife is Venezuelan, so I'd actually gotten a bilingual translator to help me write my vows both in Spanish and in English. Because her mother only spoke Spanish, and I wanted everyone in my audience to understand me. So, I'm looking into her eyes, we're under the huppah, I'm looking into her eyes, I'm delivering my vows, they're going so well. Like, I even think she's turned on. (audience laughs) Then I get to the part where I say, I love the way you take care of me, you get the toilet paper ready for me when we're in a public bathroom, and I'm squatting to pee. You don't care when I wanna change seats in a restaurant. You understand my need for attention. And when I said that line, I could tell, like her face kinda went dead. And I got this feeling that no one was listening. So I said the line again to nobody. And I felt this heartbreak. In the middle of my vows. In the middle of the most important speech of my life. And then I looked out, and there was a hive of shit going on. Chairs were moved, a scrum was formed, and then I saw my uncle. And then two of my doctor cousins rushed to the scene, someone called 911, my brother, who was my best man, was like, Bob's gone, Bob's gone. So what did I just do there? I built the stakes. Now you know that I'm someone who really, really needed to be paid attention to in that moment. And that my moment got thwarted. So, he got taken to the hospital. And then my dad said, okay, party goes on. I was like, what? We eat paella now? No way, not until I finish my vows. And I did finish my vows, and I told my vows. And you know what? No one was listening. But this is what I learned. One, that, that it sucks when your night is stolen. But also that something bigger was going on. So, I think that story became about a moment where I kinda grew up the tiniest bit. (audience laughs) But the point is, a situation. Man dies, and comes back to life during your vows, is not a story unless you bring meaning to it. You raise the stakes and show us why we should care. He's still alive. That was eight years ago.
Everyone has a story to tell, and most everyone has a desire to tell it. What stops some is the mistaken belief that they can’t write. But if you can speak you can write. And the most important thing for a writer to do when telling their story is to speak the truth.
Andrea Askowitz is a teacher, writer, performer, and co-host and creator of the podcast Writing Class Radio. In this class, she’ll inspire you to figure out what your story is, help you write a first draft, and learn key techniques to strengthen your writing.
In this class, you’ll learn how to:
- Mine your life for story ideas.
- Start with the who, what, where and when of your story.
- Use specific details.
- Raise the stakes by figuring out why you’re telling this story.
- Create a likable narrator, which means a vulnerable narrator.
- Practice by reading your story out loud and telling your story without reading it.