The Challenges of Story Compression

One of the most difficult challenges every storyteller faces is how to compress days / months / years / centuries when crafting a narrative. For example, the Roman Empire lasted some 500 years, yet books on the topic are typically under 500 pages, which illustrates how many facts the authors had to cut. Even when the subject is as narrow as the life of one person, such as Julius Caesar, that same page count only allows for the highlights. Volumes of data are left behind.

So imagine the difficulty in reducing an entire life – and in this case it’s quite an illustrious life – into a twenty minute podcast. Could you compress your life into twenty minutes? Rather frustrating for most folks. But such is the mastery of Nate DiMeo, founder of The Memory Palace, with his insightful story about Robert Smalls. You might call The Wheel a master class in story compression.

This excerpt from Wikipedia will give you some indication of Robert Smalls’ life, though it’s just one chapter of a saga that’s hard to fathom. Listen to Nate’s narrative and you’ll gain a much better sense of Robert’s keen ability to plan and execute. The other thing you will notice is the difference between information – as provided by Wikipedia – and narrative nonfiction – as spoken by Nate DiMeo.

Robert Smalls (April 5, 1839 – February 23, 1915) was an American politician, publisher, businessman, and naval pilot. Born into slavery in Beaufort, South Carolina, he freed himself, his crew, and their families during the American Civil War by commandeering a Confederate transport ship, CSS Planter, in Charleston harbor, on May 13, 1862, and sailing it from Confederate-controlled waters of the harbor to the U.S. blockade that surrounded it. He then piloted the ship to the Union-controlled enclave in Beaufort-Port Royal-Hilton Head area, where it became a Union warship. His example and persuasion helped convince President Abraham Lincoln to accept African-American soldiers into the Union Army.

Even without personal knowledge of the area, and few details of the historical moment, you can still imagine the scene of a blockade off the coast, of Robert’s desire to escape slavery in The South, and the impossible notion of stealing a Confederate boat in order to make his escape. There is the briefest mention of his mother, his wife and two daughters, yet you clearly see the stakes involved in his decision to take that boat, to risk it all.

Robert Smalls Photo By Brady Handy

Photo by Mathew Brady / Public Domain

With the visual references to slaves being bought and sold, to being whipped in the fields, you come to embrace the motivation, despite the stakes, to take that boat, to take the wheel, at the age of 23. The escape took hours, but in just a few seconds Nate takes us onboard the Confederate gunboat CSS Planter, where we feel the tension, the odds stacked against success.

Confederate Gunboat CSS Planter

Photo by Unknown Author / Public Domain

I’ll leave it to you to hear the story to its conclusion. To marvel at the fact that his heroic exit from South Carolina wasn’t the end of the story. How he served in the Union Navy.  How he returned to Beaufort after the war, became a politician and served in both the South Carolina State legislature and the United States House of Representatives.

By the story’s conclusion I felt as though I had been listening for hours, while being taken on a magnificent journey of one man’s incredible life. But when I checked the clock, only twenty minutes had passed. Story compression is a time warp, an experience that doesn’t leave you feeling short-changed.

If you have a desire to tell your life story – on a podcast or on a stage – if only to cover the highlights, yet feel that the challenge of compressing your story to a reasonable length is next to impossible, revisit this podcast. In fact, do yourself a favor and subscribe to The Memory Palace. Every episode is a master class in how to captivate an audience and reveal the essence of what it means to be human, and do so in a matter of minutes.

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

The Creative Penn Podcast Episode 500

Storytelling takes many forms, and while my focus, for the most part, supports individuals telling their story verbally, writing your story is another avenue for generating impact based on your ideas, lessons learned, and life experiences. In fact, a number of my clients have turned their attention to the spoken version of their story after having published a book.

The Creative Penn Podcast

As with speaking, learning the art and craft of written storytelling takes time, and is based in large part on seeking the wisdom of others who have made the same journey. If writing is your current profession, or simply a future goal, then The Creative Penn Podcast should be in your toolbox.

Joanna Penn is the host, and after 11 years she released her 500th episode. A milestone that few podcasters reach!

You’ll need to hear the entire podcast to discover the many pearls of wisdom that she offers from past episodes, but I wanted to share a few of them here.

Write What You Love

Are you writing what others think you should write, or what you feel the market wants? Maybe you feel that your talents are limited to only one genre, or either fiction or non-fiction. Joanna was stuck in that box until she tried her hand at writing fiction books and now has 18 novels to her credit. Don’t let the challenge of exploring new styles of storytelling hold you back.

It’s Okay If Your First Draft Sucks

Taking this idea further, it is extremely rare (like one in a million) that a first draft is the best you can do. This applies to writing books, articles, or your personal story. When Joanna interviewed Mur Lafferty, the point was made that if we can recognize this fact, and stop worrying about it, great writing is possible.

And I think, when people allow themselves to just write the story and not worry about what’s going to happen to the story afterward, that’s when they really let themselves actually improve. It’s like when they’re thinking about it too much, they hold themselves back or they put some sort of handicap on themselves. But when they just write and not worry about sucking or worrying about how good it is or where it’s gonna be published, then better things happen. ~Mur Lafferty

Realizing that you could write something terrible and then fix it up later with editing freed me from so much. My first drafts are a lot better now, but we all have to go through those first few books where we don’t know what we’re doing! ~Joanna Penn

Leverage Your Intellectual Property

Too often writers will publish their book, either through a traditional publishing house or independently, then they’ll move on to the next project. But there are international rights, audio book rights, movies, even gaming rights to consider.

It’s a subject writers need to spend time exploring, and hire a professional when there are contract related questions. Bottom line, don’t sign anything unless you fully understand what you’re signing up for.

I think authors, indies, have not given enough thought to rights. Taking a publishing rights perspective on your work is the missing link for the indie author and it’s really important to trade publishing. ~Orna Ross

I know the worth of my intellectual property assets, they are the basis of my business — as well as my art. If you understand this, you are an empowered writer! ~Joanna Penn

Develop Your Personal Brand

The concept of having a personal brand was once reserved for those who “made it” in the publishing world, who made the best seller lists and were interviewed on all the talk shows. But in the digital world, with podcasting, Instagram, email marketing and video channels, anyone can get their brand in front of thousands – and on a daily basis if so desired. How do people see you? What’s your brand?

Turning Pro

Some folks are happy being a part time writer and publishing once in a while, making some spending money on the side. But if your goal is to make a living by telling stories – and this applies equally to a writing career or a speaking career – then you should go all in and understand what it means, what it takes to go pro.

When I was trying to learn to be a writer and was falling on my face over and over and over, the reason I decided finally was that I was an amateur. I had amateur habits and I thought like an amateur and what turned the corner for me was just a simple sort of turning a switch where I just decided, I’m going to turn pro. I’m going to think like a pro.

Courage plays a lot. It takes a lot of guts to do this. Patience is also very important, to be patient with ourselves, allow ourselves to fall off the wagon sometimes. Taking the long view is another aspect of it. ~Steven Pressfield

Publishing is like a roller coaster, it’s up and down and up and down. It’s similar to the music industry. If you have one hit, don’t assume that your next one’s going to be a hit. So when you do have money, you need to save well, invest it, prepare for times when it’s going to be a crash, and just don’t think that it’s going to keep going. ~Kevin J Anderson

There’s so much more content in this 500th episode of The Creative Penn, so do give it a listen, and if you’re a writer (professional or aspiring), subscribe to the podcast. You can thank me later. Every episode is a deep dive into the world of writing, publishing, and most importantly, storytelling.

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved

 

Interviewing From a Historical Perspective

The process of crafting an impactful story often begins with identifying events and insights from your life’s journey, but such stories become more compelling and diverse when they include the experiences of others, as additional voices will broaden and deepen the narrative landscape, allowing audience’s to better understand the point you’re proposing, or the lessons you have learned.

One way to do this is by interviewing people who can offer listeners/readers a perspective that expands beyond yours. As with the disciplines of writing and speaking, interviewing is an art form that one must study and practice. When clients ask me how to conduct interviews I steer them to the On Being podcast, hosted by Krista Tippett.

Her interviews with renowned scholars, writers, poets, scientists, and religious leaders explore the most fundamental and profound questions. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? And who will we be to each other? If you’re looking to sharpen your storytelling skills, consider this podcast is an interviewing masterclass.

The podcast recently replayed a timely episode recorded on November 17, 2016: This History is Long; This History Is Deep – it’s an interview with Isabel Wilkerson. By reading the transcript while listening you can identify when Krista is diving deeper into a particular topic, or moving their conversation into new territory.

…our country is like a really old house. I love old houses. I’ve always lived in old houses. But old houses need a lot of work. And the work is never done. And just when you think you’ve finished one renovation, it’s time to do something else. Something else has gone wrong. ~ Isabel Wilkerson

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The Successful Pitch with John Livesay

I had the pleasure of meeting John Livesay when he joined the Speaker Adventure storytelling program that I hosted with hall-of-fame speaker Jeff Salz, and we’ve been friends ever since. John’s podcast, The Successful Pitch, which is a must listen for entrepreneurs and business leaders, focuses on how to make your pitch compelling, clear and concise.

John is a renowned keynote speaker who shares the lessons learned from his award-winning sales career while at Conde Nast. In his keynote Better Selling Through Storytelling he shows companies’ sales teams how to become irresistible so they are magnetic to their ideal clients.

It was such an honor to work with John on his TEDx Talk – Be The Lifeguard of Your Own Life! from TEDxWilmington that has over a million views. We reconnected for a conversation on his podcast – Storytelling With Impact: The Secrets To Giving A TEDx Talk With Mark Lovett – and it was fun to share a few storytelling insights. Give a listen and let me know your thoughts.

TEDx talk, storytelling, Storytelling with Impact, public speaking, speaker coach, emotions versus the logic Read more

The Country Doctor on Snap Judgement

America has had problems with discrimination from day one. Look no further than the death toll of Native Americans, often deemed to be heathens, as settlers pushed onward from sea to shining sea. And with the invention of the cotton gin, wealthy landowners sanctified an increase in slavery, economically justifying the practice of kidnapping, shackling, and selling Africans to the highest bidder.

Then we have the egregious treatment of Mexican citizens. You know, the folks who owned a significant chunk of the Western U.S. until they exited south at gunpoint. And let’s not forget about the treatment of immigrants from China, South America and the Middle East. These are not simple histories. In fact, quite the opposite, as there have always been Americans who were welcoming to people of any country, ethnicity or religion. But discrimination has been, and continues to be, a shameful truth in the land of freedom and justice for all.

It was encouraging to see America make progress on this front during the late 60s into the 70s and 80s, but backsliding on the ideal of equality was evident from the 1990s onward. Slowly at first, but rapidly accelerating over the past 3+ years with public displays of hate and prejudice seen in many parts of the country. Displays without remorse of apology.

But all is not lost. Hearts can soften and open with grace whenever people resist stereotyping and instead rely on the power of human connection to speak truth to hate. Whenever we remove the wall of discrimination long enough to forge meaningful relationships, a space for the miraculous appears. A space where healing and justice coexist alongside internal struggle.

Snap Judgement recently broadcast a story that I highly recommend listening to. It was one of those rare podcast episodes that stopped me in my tracks, as I needed to hear the story of Dr. Ayaz Virji until the very end. Give it a listen.

Dr Ayaz Virji on Snap Judgement

Artwork by Teo Ducot | Snap Judgment | WNYC Studios

When Dr. Ayaz Virji first set foot in Dawson, Minnesota, he didn’t know what to expect. He was a brown Muslim man walking into a predominantly white rural town. But much to his surprise Ayaz and his family fit right in. Dawson quickly became home and his neighbors became like his extended family. Then came the presidential election of 2016.

Dr. Ayaz Virji was aware of the positive impact he could have on a small rural town serving as a clinic medical director and chief of staff. And while the community embraced his family upon their arrival, and he enjoyed working with his patients, an abrupt change in the national political climate upset his view of the world, and his place in it.

The narrative follows Dr. Virji’s journey of self-discovery and reflection, of confrontation and conversation within the town after the 2016 election. As you listen to his story, think about the decisions made along the way, by all parties, but especially by Dr. Virji. How did each decision alter the plot of the story? How would you have reacted?

With my white, middle class background, living a life free from discrimination, it’s hard for me to wear his shoes (or anyone else in similar circumstances), to understand his decisions, to feel the pain and frustration that I clearly hear in his voice. What would I have done?

I continue to struggle with recognizing and dealing with the rifts of hate and discrimination in society, but as all impactful stories do, this podcast has altered my frame of reference, and I now view my own story through a new lens. And hopefully it will also make me a better storylistener.

Nancy López on Snap Judgement

Image credit: Snap Judgment | WNYC Studios

Nancy López is a senior producer at Snap Judgment. She started in radio in 2006 when she joined Soul Rebel Radio, a collective of novice storytellers in Los Angeles. Since then, she’s worked as a producer for Radio Ambulante and Making Contact. Her stories have been featured on PRI’s The World, KALW in San Francisco, and Radio Bilingue.

The Country Doctor – Season 11 – Episode 18 – Produced by Nancy Lopez, Original score by Renzo Gorrio, Artwork by Teo Ducot – Snap Judgement founded by Glynn Washington.

Article written by Mark Lovett – Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved