Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tell Me a Story, Please. And Make It GOOD! Part Uno

Work with schools : a librarian's assistant te...Image by New York Public Library via Flickr
Writing is hard. Although it doesn't inspire the fear that public speaking does, most people (including professional writers) faced with a writing task will do everything in their power to put it off. Lucky people will hire someone like me to do the job. But in a small nonprofit, there usually isn't enough budget to farm out every writing task, so there you are - looking at that blank computer screen and wishing you'd paid more attention to that tweedy guy with the weird cologne who taught composition.

It's All in The Story, Kid

It doesn't matter what the thing is - thank you letter, Facebook post, grant proposal, plea, or annual report - it involves telling a story. If you know how to tell a story, you can write just about anything.

How Do I Write a Story?

There are a few steps to writing a story (note that I didn't say a "good" story; that's next week's post):
  • Know what story you're writing
  • Have adequate supporting characters (concrete details)
  • Make sure the ending satisfies the beginning

Know What Story You're Writing

In composition class, this would be the theme or premise, the point of the whole thing that you're trying to communicate. It could be a moral, a proverb, the way you think things work, but in the end, it's the story you're trying to tell.
This is the story of...
           ...what happened to the money someone donated
           ...what grant money will be used for
  the year shaped up for the nonprofit

Once you know what the story is supposed to be about, you need the characters. Your nonprofit is the storyteller - try to make someone else the hero and give the hero plenty of support.

Details Are Supporting Characters

Some supporting characters are obvious - facts and figures, data. But others don't ask to be included; you have to look for them. Who will be affected by the story you're telling and how? Find a hero. Maybe it's that volunteer who came early and left late to help with staging an event. Maybe it's the child who started her own business to support her school with a program your nonprofit could help with. Maybe it's the postal worker who saved half her monthly income and put it in an endowment for one of your programs. Find your hero and you'll know who the supporting characters need to be.

Make Sure The Ending Satisfies the Beginning

You started a story, and it needs a satisfying conclusion. It should link back to where you set out the theme or premise at the start:
The ending of the story of...
           ...what happened to the money donated - we used the money well for...
           ...what the grant money will be used for - we will use the money well for...
  the year shaped up for us - it was a good/bad year and we learned...

The End of This Tale

If you know the story you're telling, you have a hero to write the story around, and the end of the story tells how things concluded, you have the base of a good tale. Just the base, though. A story is more than its elements; how the story is told can be just as important as what happened. But that is a tale for next time.

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