Tell Stories that Matter

We all tell stories, and creative people—from the boardroom to the alley—tell the best ones.

A good story is something that strikes us as interesting, informative, maybe, and above all engaging. If it were a food, it might be described as meaty, or juicy, or fresh. Stories that don’t really matter are optional, like the whipped cream on dessert.

But how do we find a good story? How do we write what matters?

The answer to this question is always the same, and it was confirmed again lately at a festive little gathering where I ran into a friend.

In as private a moment as one can find in a crowded kitchen, not far from the bar, she mentioned that she was caring for her mother who lived several states away. In the beginning, her mother knew her, but now she doesn’t, and so a formality has settled over their visits, as if strangers just meeting.

“She may not know me, but at least she likes me,” my friend said. “She thinks I’m nice, and she likes my voice.”

She is nice, of course, and she has a nice voice, as well, which she put to work reading aloud to her mother to help fill the hours. She plucked the books right from her mother’s own bookcase on the theory that she would like them, and she did.

And then, she came across her mother’s very own diaries, right there on the shelf, and so she started reading those—the story of her life read back to her and in her own words.

What it would it be like to have your life narrated just as you recorded it, but heard now as if a stranger to the tale? Would something jump out as important? Would it entertain and satisfy? As perhaps surprises no one, mother and daughter were amply engaged.

It got me thinking about the stories that matter, and how to find them, and the answer never changes. The one story we care most about is always our own.

The storyteller who knows this has something powerful at his disposal.

Capture that in what you’re doing—some genuine quality that mirrors back to the reader a little piece of his own personal stake in the world—and you have a winner.  No whipped cream needed.