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. Personal essay favors reflection, takes a bird’s eye view, and covers a longer period of time. Story favors immediacy, is generally about a single event, covers a shorter period of time, while also allowing for reflection. Stories use plot

A story is not a speech: it is about your experience. (I over we).

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. If you don’t remember the details of a moment, make it up, as long as your invented details are likely and believable. Take us into a moment.

Your story will have stakes: it should matter deeply to you. Orientate the story around a revelation, conflict, or meaningful event. Your piece will likely dive in and out of a 1. story in the present tense and 2. self-analysis and back story. Connect plot with reflection; action with meaning. This infuses your story with subtext and emotional depth.

Bring the most important and dramatic parts of your story to life with dialogue. Be clear on the emotional impact you wish to have.

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!