Articles by Max

Mastering the Magic of Stories, Part III

Deepening Them

So far, in Parts I and II of Mastering the Magic of Stories, we’ve learned how to find them by looking deeply into our own lives and by noticing the experiences of others. We’ve paid careful attention to the ingredients we need to develop a story that will interest and engage the emotions of our audiences. Now let’s look at how we can deepen the significance of a story and make it even more relevant, longer remembered and, most importantly, possessed of those qualities that help people change their lives for the better.

How do we do this?

*The Transferable Metaphor ~ Connect the story you tell to the lives of your listeners.

From the beginning, shape the story towards fulfilling a purpose that addresses the needs of your audience. The metaphors in our stories must link with their lives in a way that gives them new wisdom and some insight that they regard helpful to their survival.

Choose crucial words in your story that have emotional weight. I mentioned in the previous issue of Georgia Speaker a story about returning to my father’s bedside in the hospital after his heart attack. His “heart was giving out”‘ he was “flat on his back”.

Find, then, the conflict resolution or the “heroic action”. His first words upon opening his eyes and seeing me were from Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.”:

“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world!”.

And then he said, “Now I know Portia said that and you’re playing Shylock, but thank you so much for coming.” I then say to the audience, “Wow, what a guy. At perhaps the most vulnerable moment in his life he found the energy and heroic capacity to step into my story and elevate my spirits.”

The point of the story: There is great power in showing someone we understand and value their story, that we appreciate their efforts to meet a challenge and that we are available to assist them if our service would be appropriate.

Further: We apply the words directly to the corporate/professional/personal context of the audience. “Have we ever felt the heart might be going out of our business…that we might be flat on our back? What client or prospective client could we call and ask if our work together is still active in their plans and would they appreciate our attention to their current situation?”

It is not maudlin and I never go for the sentiment. It is celebratory and athletically passionate. My dad’s modeling of this principle has guided me for more than twenty years and it’s a light I enjoy sharing.

Never make your stories about the loss. They are always about the possibilities.

Find the action that reflects new wisdom, the smart move, or a plan of action. Uncover the double meaning that applies metaphorically to the audience. Use fully sensory language. Repeat key words as often as is appropriate. Work a call-back of the point of the story as a reminder into the last thirty seconds of your speech.

*Increase your vocabulary. Wear out your thesaurus.

If we are not as smart as our audience wants us to be, our vocabulary will be the first evidence of that sad truth. How well we use words determines how well we create stories of significance.

Here is one of my favorite ways to stir up my vocabulary when I’m crafting a speech or just playing with how I might express a particular idea.
I select five or six words that are currently important to me at this juncture. Using one sheet of paper per word, I put a word in the upper left hand corner and fill the rest of the page with many synonyms from perhaps two thesauruses. I spread out those pages in front of me as I explore, muse, wonder and ponder some key thoughts prompted by the speech topic. This is great fun. You may say something obvious in an unpredictable way. Ex. “His speaking desperately needed a serif.”

And you may be surprised at how the substance of your story and its message expand along with their lasting impact on your audience.

* Objects of Remembrance: Seeds of Transformation

Identify an object that was intimately related to the emotional apex of your story. It must not be gratuitous.
Describe that relationship of the point to the story in terms of the insight you want to nurture.

Ex. Jenny Dixon of Hull, County York, England wrote one of my poems in gold ink on a silk tie and sent it to me saying she was sorry she couldn’t give it to me in person. Miles disappeared.

The point? We can create a sense of closeness and affection across the miles by showing our feelings creatively. The presence of the tie adds a sense of authenticity to the feelings which are essential for communicating depth. When talking of some actual person consider whether you have some object that helps create their presence. It must relate to the substance of the story and not be “forced”.

Another example. On a train returning home from a wedding in Colorado to my home in Indiana, I wrote in the opening pages of a script of “Cyrano de Bergerac” of my discontent with a life of delayed dreams; I was twenty-two years old.
My comments expressed how strongly I felt about the way I had spent the last five years in college ignoring most of the activities I had enjoyed in high school years and where I had found my sense of worth and personal growth. The next day I quit law school. A few weeks later I was enrolled in the University of Colorado starting my fulfilling career of studying, teaching and performing in the fields of speech and theatre.

In a keynote I often discuss change and the power of a single decision that can change our lives. At a crucial point I pick up the Cyrano script and from it I read those words of a young twenty-two year old man deciding to change his life. He is fresh and idealistic. The reading directly from the script/book creates a moment of explosive zeal that resonates with the audience.
I’m saying, essentially, “You can have this now!” The book is held out in my raised hand. It’s important to make sure the object is of a size the audience can see. Like the Cyrano script the object anchors the emotion to the point you are making; feeling is anchored to object and object is anchored to purpose.
Meaning and depth are anchored to story.

The point? At any time in our life we have the power to assess what we are doing. Whether we are returning home from a trip or looking for where our home is in the world, we are and we always will be the only ones who can validly write our own story and determine our own future. It takes a decision. The Colorado story includes all of those and the script adds visual and kinesthetic dimension.

The script? An object of remembrance and a seed of transformation.

Metaphor. Words. The Physical World. Three doors for adding depth to story.

For a much longer treatment of adding meaning and depth to your stories including additional guidelines and examples, send your email to maxwdixon@gmail.com.