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The Easiest Story to Tell

For people who hate writing, the hardest part is usually getting started. Where do you begin? An infinite number of pathways sit before you, and how could you possibly know which one to pick?

I'll save you some time. Tell a story.

In journalism, this is known as an "anecdotal lede" (never mind the corrupted spelling of "lead," which is a vestige of the physical printing era). An anecdotal lede is a short story meant to represent some larger themes or trends you're about to encounter.

The thinking goes, instead of saddling the reader with information at the start, you're more likely to keep their attention if you give them a scene with a character who's going through something that exemplifies the thrust of the piece.

Okay, so you're telling a story. But you don't have much time before you kind of need to just get on with it. So how do you package a story in small box? Use the following four tools—they'll help you tell any story, whether it's written or told aloud.

  1. Scene

  2. Character

  3. Desire

  4. Moral

To tell a story that keeps people's attention, create a space: a room, a location, something. Then, put whomever the story happened to in that space. Next, make it clear what they want, what they're seeking: a cheeseburger, a library book, eternal salvation. Just make it seem really important, because something has to be at stake. If nothing's riding on the outcome, who cares what happens?

Finally, after you've told the story, reflect. Add in a little dash of wisdom, something the character learned through the process. This reminds people that the story isn't just personal; it's universal.

You'll be shocked how much more people will lean in to listen to even the simplest story that has these four ingredients. (Here's John Krasinski talking about his car breaking down.)

There are other factors, too, like choosing the right details and building the right suspense. But if you're writing, that's what editors are for. If you're in conversation, everyone expects a bit of rambling.

And, as I said at the beginning, chances are this story is just the opener for the real points you want to make. So tell it well, and then promptly get on with it. Your audience will be paying attention, and you will have avoided the stress of wondering where the hell to begin.

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