How to Make Your Story Stronger
By Moriah Kofsky
I was back at my childhood home this week and rediscovered a poem I wrote when I was 14. One line reads:
“I can’t immolate myself to stay warm anymore.”
* That was painful to write. *
If you are thinking it is reminiscent of Metallica lyrics, I wouldn’t disagree.
I like to think I’ve grown as a writer since mourning the tragic breakup with my 8th grade boyfriend through abysmal “poetry.” Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way:
Kill Your Darlings
I sometimes write sentences that sound sophisticated or pretty, but lack purpose. These sentences contain a word I want to use or alliteration I spent ten minutes devising, so I cling to them. But more often than not, these sentences stink.
There’s nothing wrong with writing sentences void of purpose. Frequently, my final products derive from writing without stopping to judge each word. I believe the problem arises when we can’t recognize the “darlings” that need to be “killed” or, if we recognize them but our ego prohibits us from hitting delete.
Omit Needless Words
Related to “Kill Your Darlings,” “Omit Needless Words” is rule number 13 in William Strunk Jr.’s book The Elements of Style. I find it helpful to imagine that each word equals one dollar. For every word you write in your piece, you pay one dollar. This encourages economy of language: writing in the present voice instead of the passive voice, using minimal “being verbs,” and deleting unnecessary modifiers.
Use the Language of Ordinary Speech
Most of us have feared sounding stupid in our writing and have compensated for this by using ostentatious words. This writing sounds unnatural because no one actually speaks this way.
“The aromatic fragrance of ground kopi luwak warms my olfactory senses as the sun untucks itself from under the mountain.”
“My coffee smells good this morning.”
Don’t Withhold the Truth
The lines of your story that are uncomfortable to write are generally the lines that resonate with readers, because they add a pulse to your words. Your audience will sense when you gloss over the gritty details of your story because it sounds suspiciously polished. In the context of a brand story, it’s improbable that a product emerged without having a setback or ten, and your audience can sense that.
I also believe it’s crucial to be accountable when exposing vulnerability in your brand story or any writing piece. Dismissing our faults or blaming them on others can alleviate the fear of readers judging our vulnerable truths. But dismissiveness and blame dilutes or destroys the substance of attempted vulnerability.
And if writing an authentic story means the narrative ends curtly, or is still unfolding, that’s OK. You don’t have to end your story wrapped up in a nice bow if it’s not the truth.
Don’t Begin at the Beginning
Sometimes writing your story means starting at the middle or end of the chronological account. Beginning your story with, “I had the idea of creating X product in college” may seems natural but often yields an overly familiar opening. Experiment with starting on a striking image that will lure your reader into craving the rest of your story.
It’s important to note that there’s a fine line between intrigue and confusion. If your reader is confused they will stop reading.
Ditch the “Pitch”
Writing a story, including your brand story, is a process of discovery. When you calculate a “pitch” for your story, you must know the essence or purpose of your story at the start. The ensuing writing process then becomes less about discovery and more about execution. Detours into uncharted terrain might derail or undermine the pitch, so we repress them and the result is shallow and cliché. This writing doesn’t unfold organically, but instead feels constricted to a preconceived template.
If someone wants to understand your story they’re going to have to read the whole thing. And if you write it well, they will want to.
Moriah Kofsky is an Associate at Woden. Whatever your storytelling needs may be, let Woden help. Read our free Storytelling Blueprint, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how we can help tell your story.