I remember the first accredited writing class I taught. One class (as they invariably did) ran late, and one of my students was pulled up by the police on the way home.
“What have you been doing so late out?” the policeman asked.
He meant he’d been learning to write stories. We all laughed because it was funny, and typical of him, and also (see the story inception coming up) because the truth of his story was that the best stories, even when completely made up, are fundamentally and unarguably truth.
When I’m talking truth, I don’t mean facts. When Erma Bombeck wrote that she was 11 months pregnant, this obviously wasn’t a fact. But every woman who has been heavily pregnant would nod in recognition: we know the feeling of being 11 months pregnant! And that’s the truth. The emotional truth.
Your stories, if they are to hit people where it counts, must have truth at their core. Facts are subject to filtering and interpretation, and we filter and interpret them in order to arrive at their truth.
People don’t read stories just to get information: they read them to learn something about you, and most of all, about themselves. If your story can represent the reader to him- or herself, the lesson is invaluable, and the connection and trust are unbreakable.
When constructing stories for the people you lead, serve, or work with, ask yourself, “What is the emotional truth of this story? What is its real meaning?” Don’t make stuff up (other than for literary effect, like those 11 months), but don’t let fact stand in the way of truth, either. Concentrate on the details that affirm the truth, rather than the details that confirm facts.
Truth is also found in your attitude. You must be willing to stand or live by the truths in your stories, or like the guy I spoke about last week, you will be proclaimed a liar and untrustworthy – no matter what else you do. If the truth of your story is, “We must be nice to each other”, you’d better not be found acting like a jerk.
Next week I’ll round off this series on storytelling by talking about metaphors and parables.
Until then, go tell some lies!