How to write and tell a great story

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The writing

Generation Women is a storytelling event, which means we’re after a great story. This differs from a personal essay. A personal essay favors self-reflection and analysis. While this is a part of storytelling, the most important part is painting a scene that was impactful for you. Take us there.

Use present tense for immediacy. Rather than “I remember I stood at the Taj Mahal, gaping at its wonder” go for “I’m standing at the Taj Mahal, gaping at its wonder.” Use specific details to bring the scene to life. Rather than “An old man was selling souvenirs”, try “A man with a face like a wrinkled prune was selling neon-colored t-shirts screen-printed with ‘I Love My Indian Husband’”. If you don’t remember what the old man was selling, you can make it up, as long as your invented details are likely and believable: writers do this all the time (no memoirist has that good a memory, trust us!).

Your story will have stakes: it should matter deeply to you. Orientate the story around a revelation, conflict, or meaningful event. Perhaps, “As I stand there, marveling at this incredible part of Indian history, I realize that I’ve never felt this wonder about my own life. And that’s when I decided to start my company/divorce my husband/sell everything I own and go traveling for a year”.

In the most important parts of your story, use dialogue. Rather than: “I explode at the old man. I’d never been so mad. I say some crazy things: I am really, really furious.” Try: “The old man gives me another disinterested look and tells me, “You're too fat for this shirt.” Sweat breaks out on my brow. Anger fills me like a wave of fire. “Screw you!” I scream. “How dare you talk to me like that!” 

Your piece will likely dive in and out of a 1. story in the present tense and 2. self-analysis and back story. Above all, make sure to have a great opening that intrigues us—it should set up the stakes and grab attention—and strong closing line that sums it all up. 

 

The telling

You can have notes onstage at Generation Women, but the best performances are ones that use these notes as a back-up or guide. The more you can keep your eyes on the audience, engaged in the telling rather than focused on the reading, the better your performance. You don’t need to get every word right: it’s a live story, not a written essay.

Practice your story at home in front of a sympathetic listener (or just record it on your phone) and see how much you can do without needing your notes. Make sure you’re positioned close to the microphone; you can sound check before the audience arrives.

Your performance should have peaks and valleys; moments of excitement and moments of quiet. Resist the urge to rush, especially if you’re nervous.

If you have different characters in your story, you can experiment with modulating your voice to represent them, i.e. dropping your voice for a male character. 

Overall, challenge yourself to own the spotlight, even relish in it. Our audience wants to hear from you, you will have the room’s attention, so enjoy it!