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Good watching comes before good writing.

My mother instilled in me the rudeness of staring. So I’m sorry if I caught you looking at me in the airport terminal. Simply put, I find you fascinating. I find it fascinating how you repeatedly tap your foot and wonder if it is a nervous habit or if it is in time to the beat of the music playing through those overpriced headphones you wear. I am equally interested by you two over there, the elderly couple by the window, and how it is clear from the acrimonious conversation you have been having for the past hour without saying a word that you have been together for a very long period. I wonder if you two are aware of how the passage of time has rendered your features identical. Ah, now here comes the immaculately groomed dog with your nose from the plaid bag. In the meantime, your only son offers you the same crooked smile he had when he was three and tries to look courageous — for once, not embarrassed by his mother being there. I see you, the mother, trying not to cry as you tighten the collar on your only son’s military uniform. So yeah, I do regret my gazing. But I have to do it because it’s my work.

As a motivational speaker and storyteller, I frequently get inquiries about how I come up with my stories. They undoubtedly already know that not all stories are created equal and that winging it with your story will probably result in leaving out some of its best parts. One that rises to the top is the DETAILS, even if there are many explanations for how I write my stories (insert shameless plug for, which teaches you how to master your moments through the art of story). You are nodding if you are familiar with my writing since you have probably seen that in one of my stories. Sometimes I feel like I have too many details, but that’s a creative decision I’ve made; what matters is that you take the time to paint a few in your picture, not how many you add or even which details you chose.
The ability to show me instead of tell me is the secret to a superb presentation. Stories are the secret ingredient because they demonstrate rather than merely state. Therefore, when you tell me a tale, show me instead of just telling me about it. Give me a few rich details so I can visualize it and imagine myself there. And in order to achieve that, you must stand inside of it yourself and describe what you see to me.
Details can be used in a story in a variety of ways, such as setting, context, emotion, etc. However, today I’m only focusing on the individuals — the characters — in your story. I am unable to see them if you cannot. I can’t see them if you don’t show me what you see.
I can’t relate to your tale if I can’t visualize it. And communication is vital. You are inviting me into this small movie as you narrate a story. You are cheating me out of the experience if you simply tell me what happened, as you would in a middle school book report.
Create a People Journal
You’ll adore this if, like me, you enjoy any excuse to purchase a cute notepad. Or, if you’re more like the TV investigator, all you need is a tiny, inexpensive spiral notebook with a chewed-off pencil to jot down notes and sneak into your pocket, then by all means, go for it. The key is to start paying attention to people on purpose. It’s the ideal moment to just sit and stare while you’re in a waiting situation. Also, note what you observe.
Beyond the apparent, look.
I don’t notice the obvious things about folks when I take their notes. The fact that this woman has red hair doesn’t worry me. Her hair, which has the hue of cheap wine and seems like it once had a horrible perm, has caught my attention. Three women and a baby who are plainly related to each other’s families are unimportant to me. I am seeing a photograph of four generations—a baby, a mother, a grandmother, and a great grandmother—caught in a genuine position for a portrait that no artist will ever be able to capture. I can assume that I’m genuinely witnessing one soul’s journey through time because of how similar their faces are. I resist the desire to enquire about taking their picture. But it makes no difference. I have it already. They’ll simply never notice it.
When taking notes, search for details that go beyond what you can see. Find methods to tie what you observe in that individual to an unrelated experience. Like the lure on a fishing line, his adam’s apple wobbled from side to side. Consider their behavior in the real world rather than just how they appear. He appeared to have no faith in anyone as his eyes kept darting back and forth.
It will greatly affect the outcome if you take the time to be deliberate about the characters in your story. The smallest word or term can have a significant impact on the experience you build, as practically every client I work with discovers.
Now I have to leave because the Academy is taking up this subject, having a discussion about it, and helping one another create their personalities. Be a part of us!
One story at a time, let me help you master your moments of influence. Enroll right away in Story Impact Academy. You’ll be happy that you did.

Book strategic storytelling expert Kelly Swanson to teach you how to tell the stories that matter.

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