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Lie, but Make It Entertaining: A Meditation on Storytelling


"Storytelling" was dubbed 2017's Worst Buzzword by AdAge. I get it. "It's not a story, it's an ad." That's cool , but also ridiculous. You need stories to sell products because stories connect people. No one feels deeply about paper towels. They feel for the parents of a precocious 2 year old who spills everything and they need to wipe it up quickly. Move around with the foolishness. This article came out exactly one day after I drafted this post. You can't make coincidences like this up, people. Unless you put the lessons in this post to good use.

You clicked this link because:

1. You are interested in the elements of a story and how it should be constructed

2. You know the basics but you want to kick your storytelling into high gear

3. I sent you the link and you felt obligated to at least scroll through and send me a thumbs up.

Either way, I have a little something for all of you. Let’s dive in!

To put this delicately, I am an AMAZING storyteller. No, really. I can weave a wonderful yarn with twists and turns that will pull you through the complete range of human emotion with aplomb. You should be honored I’m giving you this up-close, example-based master class in entertaining lies (this will make sense later) for free.

(art cred: @BossLogic)

Every story that has ever been told includes 4 components: main character, setting, conflict, and resolution. Think of these as the four walls of a house and the foundation of your story. They are bland and uninteresting. It is your job, storyteller, to fill the sad husk with the wild, compelling output of your creative little noggin. Experiment. There is no wrong way to do it. Even if you put the roof on the floor, it’s still a top and a bottom.

Using a story about storytelling (super meta), I’m going to build a foundation, decorate, and flip this storytelling house example.

This post has taken a surprising, unplanned HGTV turn. Let’s hop on this train and see where it takes us! This is storytelling lesson one.

Lesson One — Sometimes you tell the stories and sometimes the stories tell you.

Lesson Two — Start at the beginning.

I am a proud graduate of the illustrious Howard University. Howard University is the one of the greatest displays of all the types of blackness on the face of the planet. It never ceases to amaze me that I am a part of a legacy so rich and broad and lit. Opportunities I've had simply for my position within this history are beyond measure. This is where the story begins

Lesson Three - Zero in on the main character and setting.

Washington, D.C. is one of my favorite cities. I keep a loaded metro card at all times. I make up reasons to D.C. chill. One of the absolute best reasons to go is Howard University Homecoming. It is three whole days of black revelry and it is a beautiful thing. October 19-21, 2017, after a year hiatus (which is like dog years in Homecoming time), I made it back to the Hilltop.

Lesson Four - The more detail the better. Details provide context. Context is like crown molding.

I stayed an extra week because I love D.C. and didn't want to leave. Shoutout my Aunt Janice and Cousin Ann for letting me crash at their place! While LARPing as D.C. resident, I reconnected with my favorite professors and attended a job fair (it’s all about those multiple streams of income, babes!)

Lesson Five — Buckle your seat belts. We're approaching the rising action. It sets up the conflict. A conflict-less story? BOR-ING!

My professor flipped my “I need a job” paradigm on its head and made me realize I have a job (my rambling blogs and clientele comprise a job, crazy right?). My job just needs to expand. She assured me I had more than enough talent and training to convince top companies like Google that I, a freelancer, am qualified to consult on communication theory in practice and how that can benefit their company. I was reeling.

She let me do a practice "theory in narrative" in one of her classes. I’d taught for 2 years at Clemson University but this was different. 30 minutes in front of students in the hallowed halls of my beloved Howard University?! Wild and terrifying.

Lesson Six — Conflict is like surprise knob-and-tube wiring. Frustrating and dangerous but intriguing.

I spent 2 days working on a story about the internet, thinly veiled as “OnMi” (blech, I know). The purpose was to teach and challenge Foucault’s Panopticon and social influence. As you can guess, it bombed. The story was awful. I worked so hard to be so eloquent and informed, I lost my storytelling panache. Gasp!

A resolution is upon us.

I ended my ham-fisted attempt at lofty academia somewhat defeated. My professor noticed my dejection and lobbed me some amazing alley oops to get back on track. We curated and co-lead an electric class discussion.

Lesson Seven — Denouement is not pronounced “de-now-ment.” It is the falling action, like knocking out a wall for an open floor plan.

During our debrief, she reassured me I was great and it was a valuable learning experience. The take away? KEEP DOING IT. It was bad but I am a great storyteller. I am a gifted academic. I just need to get in the right groove. I walked away with my head held high, confident I could do all the things in my heart, and knowing I was on my way to HURT a Cava Mezze Grill bowl.

Lesson Eight — End in a way that satisfies yet leaves them wanting more (like me and that lamb meatball & harissa rice bowl)

Lesson Nine — Be as authentic as possible. You get in trouble with storytelling when you try to be someone else. Storytelling is a lot like lying.

Storytelling is largely acting which is just entertaining lying. Even true stories are colored by subjectivity and emotion that affect remembrance of facts. Lying in layers is hard. Be yourself, tell great stories, and rock out your next cocktail party.


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