Back to Storytelling Course Home Page

Don't see your question here or here? Email me and I'll add it to the list.

Which plot do I use for my story?

Just as three witnesses at an accident will give three different accounts of what happened, you can tell any of organization's stories in many different ways, depending on what particular elements of the story you want to emphasize and what impression or point you are trying to make with your audience.

If you aren't certain which plot to start with, try to identify the most important or memorable part of the story in your mind - what's the hook that you think is critical to the story's meaning? What makes this story really stand out in your mind? And what's the second most important point in the story? Now look at the different elements that you need for each plot, and see how closely what you have identified as the central points of your story match up with what's on the "what to look for" lists. Select the one that feels like the most natural fit and work from there.

Can I mix up the different types of plots?

Yes, by all means! Though one plot will probably be dominant, it's very common to see elements of the other plots blending into a story. Treat the different plots as the threads on which you string your beads until you have the full story.

How do I actually write the story? What comes first and last?

To get started, use the "what to look for" elements in the order they are presented. Write a couple of sentences for each story element and use that as your first draft. Read what you have out loud a few times and then make adjustments until it sounds right to you.

How much detail do we need?

Enough to make the story feel real, but not too much that you lose your audience in the details. You don't want them to get stuck on some tangent, like forgetting who the story is really about because you spent too much time perfectly describing the place the character lived. Keep your stories short, clear, and straightforward. You don't want to make people have to think too hard about the message that you're trying to give them.

How much creative license do we have to change the facts in our stories?

It's essential that your stories sound authentic. That doesn't necessarily mean that they have to be 100% true as told.

It's OK to borrow elements from several different true stories and blend them into one, as long as it's clear in your telling that this is an imaginary case. For example, you might start a story with "Imagine you woke up one day and found . . . " and then tell a story that pulls in elements from several different true stories from your clients. Don't make it too fantastical - your story has to still seem possible in the listener's mind.

You can also tell a true story about a person, but change some of the identifying characteristics to protect the person's privacy. If you are telling the story verbally, at the end, you can say something like, "I've changed a few details to protect Jane's privacy - including her name - but her story is true." If your story appears only in writing, you can put a footnote at the bottom that says, "Some details in this otherwise true story have been changed to protect our clients' privacy."

How do we go about capturing the stories in our nonprofit?

Get in the habit of listening. Listen for the various nuggets that you can string together. Lots of times, you'll be having conversations with your staff, with people that you serve, or your partner organizations, and they'll mention something that sounds like a story in the rough. What you need to do is start asking questions to uncover the real gems and polish them up.

How long is too long for a story on a website?

When in doubt, start with 500 words online and adjust from there. If you go longer, it's important to includes good subheadings in the story, because people do skim when reading online. Your subheadings help guide readers through your story, sort of like chapter titles for a book, except you use a subheading every few paragraphs in an article or story.