Friday, April 9, 2010

Moi? Boring? Part Five

Wherein I continue writing about how to tell an interesting life story.

The two interesting components of a life story are feelings and interpretation--not the literal facts.

Feelings. Leave out your feelings and reactions to a situation and the listener can not relate. Tell the listener you had stage fright and suddenly she can empathize. She’s never played chess in front of hundreds of people, but she has sung in a choir. Talk more about your feelings and less about the particular facts.

Your interpretation of the facts. What did you take it to mean when you won the game and everyone was cheering and you did not feel excited about it? How did you interpret your sister’s refusal to go to the competition? How is chess a metaphor for other things in life, or for life itself? Interpretations are speculations and even a listener who doesn’t know you at all can offer her own interpretation. This helps engage the listener. She has a way to enter the conversation. The flat relating of facts does not make room for a listener to contribute. After all, she wasn’t there, so what can she say about the facts of the situation? Nothing. She does, however, know something about life and has an opinion about whether a strategy game is a good metaphor for it or not. And she’ll probably have alternative ideas about why your sister didn’t show up.

If you think your life is boring, other people will too. If you tell your life story as a mere list of sequential facts, no one will listen. Not even your mom.

Exercise: Imagine running into a friend you haven’t seen in five years. Thinking purely in facts, write down what you would tell this friend to catch him up. Look back over what you just wrote and focus on one of the facts. Retell this one incident, but now include your feelings, reactions and interpretations of the event.

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