4/3/2012 - StoryBlog
Say It in One Sentence
What’s your story about? Can you say it in one sentence? I don’t mean tell me a “one sentence story.”  I mean, in one sentence, what is the essence of your story. If you can do that, you are well on your way to being a better story crafter, and teller.

First you have to know what it’s about. This is essential. Doug Lipman was coaching me on a personal story I was crafting. It felt a little fragmented, and I had difficulty with the ending. One of the questions Doug asked was, “What’s your story about?” I gave him a fairly long and unfocused answer. His response was, “I’m not sure that’s what I heard in the story.”
I went back to the drawing board (thinking board). It took some time. I went back and forth, wondering about Doug’s question, and finally was able to focus in on the essence of the story. Once I had done that, the rest fell into place and I had a story that was solid, and my understanding of the story was solid. That was the key.
Knowing and understanding the essence of your story can ground you, and carry you through whatever complexities or details may be in the tale. Often, coaching clients will say to me, “It’s about a man who goes here, then he goes there, then he does this, then he does that, etc.” My response is, “That’s the sequence of events. But what is the story about?” Some seem to have great difficulty with this. Elementary school students often tell me they “can’t put it in one sentence.” When coached and coaxed, most of the time, they are able.
When you know that one sentence, the essence, or what Doug calls the Most Important Thing, you can craft your story with laser sharpness. (Click here for an article by Doug on the MIT) Every piece of your tale will now relate to the essence of what it is about. If some part doesn’t, you will most likely need to discard it. MaryGay Ducey said to me (and I paraphrase), “If it doesn’t fit or serve the story, you may have to throw out something you love.”
This one sentence concept can even work for a string of pearls story. I have a compilation of three short tales about incidents with my mother at different ages. The story is not about “When I was five and when I was twenty and when I was thirty…” It’s about “How my strong bond with my mother was formed.” By the way, if you need to say it in two sentences, that’s okay. The exercise is to help you focus.
And here’s one more focusing tip: Look at each character in your story and ask yourself, “What’s one thing that is special about this character?” I asked one sixth grader what was special about one of his female characters. “Nothing really,” was his response. I cajoled, “There must be something special about her.” “Well,” he said, “Not really…except maybe the fact that she is the incarnation of a high priestess from an ancient civilization.”
OK, I think that works.

©Mark Goldman 2012

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For more information contact Mark Goldman - 602-390-3858 - Mark@Storytellermark.com


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