Tell a story. That’s the advice we are always receiving about our work writing.

But before you create that epic tale, step back and think about how you often dread hearing stories from that long-winded boss, aging aunt or chatter box friend. That’s usually because they go on for too long, don’t seem to have a point or involve people you don’t give a fig about.

write stories that don't produce yawnsIf rattling on like this is annoying in conversation, just think of how yawn-inducing it is with the written word.

Unless you are a gifted storyteller, you need to keep your anecdotes short. You need to have a clearly identifiable point. And you need to tell them about people your readers can relate to or care about.

Let me stress that I love the show-me power of stories. Well done, they touch people emotionally, encourage them to draw conclusions, humanize the writer, entertain, reinforce points, build credibility–-and much more. However, when they are poorly done, eyes glaze over, minds travel and fingers hit keys to leave your site.

I admit that I’m no Shaherazad, which explains why I’m not a rich novelist or screen writer. Chances are neither are you.

But I am adept with a quick anecdote or passing references to friends, family and interests. I enjoy letting readers get to know me a little better by telling quick stories about my personal experiences. For clients, I often rely on vignettes that show employee enthusiasm or happy customers.

Six tips

From this experience, here’s what I’ve figured out:

1. Keep your story very short.

2. Choose your details carefully. You are not painting a picture, but zooming in on the bits that illustrate your point in a vivid and compelling way.

3. Don’t describe the setting or back story. If it’s vital, show it through an action or a revealing detail.

4. State the clear moral or point of your story. Don’t assume your readers will get it.

5. Know your limitations. If you feel that the eyes may be wandering, or worse still, rolling, shorten the story.

6. Make quick references to personal experiences to weave elements of story telling into more of your writing.

Remember that few people are great spoken story tellers. Even fewer excel at writing stories.

But if you follow these tips, you can keep eyes and minds open and riveted on you.

These tips demonstrate why you need to refer back to what works in conversation when you write. And why you need to read my book, Write like you talk–only better..

They also remind me of a story…

Photo credit: Joshunter on Flickr.

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