They gasped in all the right places... until I appeared.
June 22, 2011 12:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm an awful story teller. When I tell an anecdote I want people to "Ooh", "Aah" and laugh in the right places instead of me having to tell them "That's it, that's how it ends". How do you do it, interesting people of AskMeFi?

I have seen people telling exactly the same anecdotes as me with much better results so it's not that the stories are boring, just me.
posted by Memo to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
Is there any way you can post video or at least audio of you telling one of these anecdotes? It's harder to answer something like this without hearing it.
posted by Ashley801 at 12:29 PM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do you cue them to ooh and ahh with pauses, facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice? Because that helps a lot. Imagine that you're telling a story to a young child, and make your listeners feel the story rather than just hear it.

I have seen people telling exactly the same anecdotes as me...

What kind of anecdotes are these, exactly? Generally, things that happened to you (rather than telling things that happened to other people) make for more interesting stories, since you're personally invested in it.
posted by phunniemee at 12:32 PM on June 22, 2011

take an improv class.
posted by sweetkid at 12:32 PM on June 22, 2011

Subscribe to The Moth podcast.
posted by The Deej at 12:32 PM on June 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

One big problem I've seen is that people tend to ramble on or stray from the point. You know, they'll realize that x in the story reminds them of y, so then they'll start talking about y, and I don't care about y, so I'm losing interest and thinking about lunch. So keep it to the point without a lot of details that don't matter.

Be excited about what you're talking about. If you are into it, others will be, too.

Brevity is the soul of wit.
posted by amodelcitizen at 12:33 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: phunniemee: "What kind of anecdotes are these, exactly?"

In that case I mean people who were in the same place or saw the same thing as me.
posted by Memo at 12:36 PM on June 22, 2011

Good storytelling takes some discipline. If you just rush into the most savory parts of any story without any degree of setup or dramatic emphasis, it just won't have the same punch.

You will need to honestly delight in telling the story you're sharing, but maintain control while you're telling it. Keep your 'audience' involved by maintaining eye contact with everyone in your group.

To be funny, listen to comedians. Great comedic timing can be innate, but you can also pick up on a pro's rhythms, pauses, emphasis and word choices to see how the big dogs do it.

I'd suggest:
-Louis C.K.
-Patton Oswalt
-Greg Giraldo
-Jim Gaffigan

For more dramatic stories, look up monologues or famous movie scenes where characters tell a story. You'll begin to hear through repetition how they pause and emphasize certain things to keep the audience listening.

Failing that, go to a few plays. Actors and actresses are in the profession of storytelling, and good ones will provide solid examples of how you should tell stories.
posted by glaucon at 12:37 PM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would say there's both an organizational/framing aspect and a style/expression aspect at work. In terms of organization and framing, there needs to be an ultimate punch line -- which isn't necessarily a laugh line, but it is the story's essential point, or big reveal, or whatever -- and similar punch lines along the way in terms of setting and characters. In terms of style and expression, there needs to be a relatively clear tone (a self-deprecatingly humorous story, a sad story, etc.) that needs to work with how you tell it (a flat tone for a sad story or an overly exaggerated comic affect for a light anecdote may confuse people).

Also, there's an element of showing, not telling -- you don't have to keep saying that a funny story is funny, for example; if you tell it funny, it will be funny.
posted by scody at 12:37 PM on June 22, 2011

I couldn't help but laugh at this question. I AM THE SAME EXACT WAY. I friggin' hate telling stories for this very reason. And the interesting thing is, if I could write out the story it'd be the most entertaining thing you've read in, well, I dunno, at least several hours. Anyway, I have no suggestion, but perhaps take solace in the fact you're not alone.
posted by Falwless at 12:37 PM on June 22, 2011

Don't be afraid to exaggerate to the point of telling outright lies.
posted by auto-correct at 12:38 PM on June 22, 2011 [13 favorites]

Specific areas to explore:

Start strong.
Pause after important points to allow the listener to absorb them.
Don't be afraid to repeat an important point.
Add suspense by not revealing outcomes too soon.
Don't ramble, but don't rush.
Meet the listeners where they are, and take them on your journey. (Start the story with something that resonates with them.)
"Bookend" the story with similar phrases. ("A few years ago, I learned how important friends are..." -- blah blah blah -- "...and that's how I came to understand the importance of friendship."
Pay attention to your listeners' body language and other feedback, and adjust your pace accordingly.
posted by The Deej at 12:44 PM on June 22, 2011 [8 favorites]

you don't have to keep saying that a funny story is funny, for example; if you tell it funny, it will be funny.

Or you could just be upfront about it. "Excuse me people, I know I'm not very good at this, but I'm telling a funny story. Could you please just stay with me and laugh when I give you the signal?"
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:46 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oral storytelling is like Olympic diving. You start with something simple, an elevation of sorts, and use it as a jumping point. A simple arc is elaborated by precise and energetic convolutions and contortions, and ends with a splash.

Every dive is different but they all end with the diver in the water, just like every story (and arguably every telling) is different but all end with a point. Know where the surface of the water lies and keep yourself aware of how you're approaching it. Your audience will ooh at your contortion and aah at your splash.

So tempting to take this analogy into stand-up comedy, cannonballs you know? but instead I think it's gonna walk the plank.
posted by carsonb at 12:48 PM on June 22, 2011

Why are you telling stories? Are you telling them to make people laugh? Or are you telling them to share information about yourself- to be heard? The former motivation will result in much better stories.

The first rule of good storytelling is to tell the story that they want to hear, not the one that you want to tell. Perhaps you are making the common error of editing the story in such a way that you include all of the parts you find most interesting. This can come across as "here are some interesting things that happened to me, please listen," and is boring. Try, instead, to focus on what you think they want to hear. Order events in a way that makes sense to them, rather than in a way that is important to you. Emphasize and include the parts that the audience will find interesting, rather than what you would. Avoid tangents or information that does not add to the story. Keep it as brief as possible while including all of the necessary elements. When you do all of that, it sounds more like "here is this (hilarious/interesting/surprising) story that happened and we can all enjoy."

Finally- and most importantly- choose the very stories that you tell based on the audience. People like to talk more than they like to listen, so when we make others listen to us, we are wise if we do them the courtesy of editing what we say to make it interesting to them. Of course, your interests and your audience's will ideally overlap in a lot of ways. My point is only that where they do not, you should accomodate theirs instead of yours.

A lot of people tell stories because of the desire we all have to be heard, to have someone witness our lives and to share what is important to us. But that is ultimately a self-serving desire, and is not the best way to win over listeners. The best stories are told for the benefit of the audience, not for the storyteller.
posted by the thing about it at 12:48 PM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't start with "the funniest thing happened" or "I am going to tell you the funniest story ever". That always tips me off that it is a) going to be long and b) is unlikely to be very funny.
posted by bquarters at 12:55 PM on June 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Failing that, go to a few plays. Actors and actresses are in the profession of storytelling, and good ones will provide solid examples of how you should tell stories.

I was going to say exactly this. (Well, I was going to say a lot of plays.) I am not particularly interesting, but I know how to tell a story, because I was trained as an actor. It's in how the script, first - how the story is structured, and which parts come where. And then the delivery - where you pause, where you speak faster or slower, where your voice rises and falls. It's instinctive now, and I've forgotten all the technical aspects of it, so I can't explain it. But watching lots of good theatre will explain it to you.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:02 PM on June 22, 2011

In some cases, it can actually be more effective to give away the ending of the story. Not EVERY time, but sometimes.

Recently, at a party, a girl told this story which took FOREVER and recounted her entire day, leading up to a hilarious encounter with a coworker who had serious boundary issues. It was funny. The 10-minute-long setup of "and then I went to lunch... and then I came back... and then I was talking to my friend..." was totally unnecessary. What I would have done, if I was the one telling that story, would be to just come right out and say "oh my god, you will not believe what happened to me today! This girl did [totally gross thing to my property!]" and then fleshed it out if people responded to that opening. "How did that happen?" "Well, you see..." Now, people aren't thinking "where is this going?" They're thinking "woah I can't believe that, how crazy, I wonder how it got to that point?" They'll be actively listening to your story because they know it's going somewhere good.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:09 PM on June 22, 2011 [3 favorites] having to tell them "That's it, that's how it ends"

There's the heart of your problem. A story people will care about needs to be driving toward a strong ending. A shaggy dog, "here's a series of funny, weird things that happened to me" story is very hard to pull off, no matter how interesting those funny, weird things may be. Think of a good Seinfeld episode, where 3 or 4 plots converge to a single, satisfying payoff.

Before you prepare a story in your head, know how it's going to end. Then build the beginning and middle around that. Any story needs to be told at least once to figure out what works/what doesn't. Don't bother telling the truth.
posted by bittermensch at 1:13 PM on June 22, 2011

I have this same exact problem. I was curious and started stumbling around youtube and found this just now:
Ira Glass on Storytelling, part 1 of 4

Also taking any kind of creative course might help such as acting, improv, creative writing, etc.

Some things to think about is creating suspense by raising the stakes. That is, heighten the stakes of whatever is happening. Like the person needs to make the train in order to get to their wedding on time. The stakes are high since its their wedding.

Also, the suspense in movies and things isn't during the action scenes, but rather when there is no action since the outcome is unknown. Whenever the outcome can go one way or another, or is not known helps create suspense.

Also, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! Remember to practice and work on one fundamental technique at a time.
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 1:14 PM on June 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was just trying to think of some concrete tips from stories that I tell a lot, and then I realized, the better stories are exactly that...the stories I tell a lot!

Story tellers tell stories multiple times. I have a handful of stories that I have told many times to different people, and they have definitely been refined and tweaked over the years. Perhaps you just haven't told those particular stories enough to work out all the kinks...As you tell things multiple times, you realize those parts where you are losing your audience, things that work, places you need to stretch (or exaggerate a bit), areas to speed up, etc.

So, that works for stories you are going to tell over and over again, but may seem like overkill for a quick recap of something you saw on the way to work...however, as you get better at telling those kinds of stories, you will be a better editor of stories you may only tell once or twice. The same practice-makes-perfect advice you would give to a writer applies to telling stories as well.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 1:16 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

One way people learn artistic skills is by copying. You don't have to show off your copies, but it will do you all sorts of personal good to have made them. Don't just listen to good storytellers, repeat a few of their stories back to the empty room. Like standup, a good story is about timing, tiny pauses, vocal phrasing and emphasis, facial expressions, conveying of emotion, etc. So listen, learn, mimic, repeat. Practice delivering a punch line. What's different in the speed and tone between a setup and a delivery?

Next step, reading out loud: Read a 1-2 paragraph text with the most engaging delivery you can manage. How does that compare to the pacing and phrasing you were just practicing?

Once you're dealing with your own anecdotes rather than someone else's, you're also dealing with scripting. Details are important, but so is brevity; decide which details are the most relevant, and phrase things to make it interesting. (the nerdy teenager on the bus - why was he nerdy - is it because he was wearing/holding/saying something in particular?) Often you have to withhold information until the right time (you're telling the story from the perspective of the person it was happening to, who had no idea) but other times it's even funnier in retrospect, and you want to set up the listener with all the facts so you can watch the hapless vicitm together and wait for the hammer to fall.
posted by aimedwander at 1:28 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Things need to have a point. When I tell a story that doesn't work, it's almost always because there's no concise punchline (dramatic or comedic). If I'm telling you a story about this crazy rude guy I just watched negotiate the price of food in a restaurant, the story works better if there's a button at the end. "And then the waitress threw a cake at his head!" is more fun than "I don't know... it just went on like that for a while. It was pretty awkward."

Someone upthread mentions that you can't be afraid to massage the story (okay, lie or embellish) to get that effect. I think that's true. The people I know who are great raconteurs are the ones whose stories have a point.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 1:28 PM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

My mother (bless her) is a terrible story teller sometimes. She'll leave out salient points and then have to go back and fill them in, throwing off the flow. Or she won't clearly identify the various characters in the story as she tells it, thus requiring listeners to ask, "So, wait, who said that? Katie or Sheila?" Don't do these things.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:30 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Rule of Three is key to good storytelling, e.g, "The Three Little Pigs." It's helpful for a listening audience to hear the same details twice essentially the same (Pig build house, Wolf blows house down, Wolf eats Pig) and then, having established in their minds what is the pattern, to be ready to be surprised by the variation (Pig builds house, Wolf fails to blow house down, Pig survives.) That's why fairy tales and folk tales (products of the oral tradition) so often have three wishes, or three questions, or a couple of expendable stepsisters or fellow knights to try and fail before the heroine or hero gets it right.

So it may be helpful to structure your story in three-part form, even if that requires a bit of massaging of the facts, e.g., "First I called customer service and got cut off. So I called customer service again, and I got cut off again. So by now I was really angry, but I called customer service one more time..." You have signalled to your audience that this time (the magical third time) something unexpected is about to happen.

A broader point to remember is that storytelling, like any talent, comes very naturally to some people, and to others, it requires a certain amount of practice and rehearsal. So if you have a story you really want to kill with, it doesn't hurt to try it out in front of the mirror at home a couple of times before uncorking it at the party.
posted by La Cieca at 1:33 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Stories have structure. There's an introduction (characters, place, basic setup), then some rising action (things start to get interesting! what will happen next?), then a peak/crisis that is at the heart of the story, then some denoument (aka "falling action") leading to a resolution. Listen to a bunch of stories (the Moth, as mentioned above, is great for this) and work on identifying each of these phases in the story. You'll start to get the hang of that rhythm and can use that as a framing device for your own stories. Listeners respond better to these framed stories because they have cues for how to respond, based on where they are in relation to the structure of the story. Very skilled storytellers can play with this structure in interesting ways - but as you start out, just try to stick to the basics.
posted by judith at 1:45 PM on June 22, 2011

First, you gotta be willing to salt the truth. I don't mean make shit up or fabricate things entirely, but be willing to collapse the literal truth into a sort of hazy penumbra of mostly-true. Instead of saying "this kid I grew up with, who actually lived with us for a few years because her mother had died of pancreatic cancer and her dad could only deal with two kids, which I guess fucked her up pretty well because when she left our house she did a lot of crazy shit and ended up in a facility for troubled teens for a while," you just say "My cousin, who's a juvenile delinquent with a heart of gold." No, she's not literally your cousin, but the details aren't important.

Second, I'm a big fan of doing things in threes. You can either go with Proclaim --> Intensify --> Blow the Roof Off, or Proclaim --> Intensify --> Subvert. The first might be something like "Oh man, I have had the most surreal day. I was walking to work and there was a guy on a unicycle in the bike lane who kept pacing me, unintentionally I think, but it was kind of nervewracking. Then, once I got to work, my office phone kept ringing, but every time I picked it up, it was just some female robot voice saying "So sorry you're having difficulty! Goodbye!" and then a dial tone, which, thank you GLaDOS, you don't need to remind me what a schlub I am, you know? And then, when I was walking home, there was a whole group of people dressed like giraffes on those crazy arm and leg stilts milling around on the sidewalk. I kept alternating between worrying that someone had dosed my morning latte and HOPING that someone had dosed my morning latte, because otherwise I might be losing my damn mind."

The second one I can best illustrate with a story I don't tell any more because my husband asked me to stop, about a time I left our 2.5 year old daughter with him for the evening when he was sick. I had been grumpy because I'd had to watch her all day even though *I* was sick, and I had a really important rehearsal to get to in the evening, so I baldly told him to suck it up, if he'd been well enough to go to work then he was well enough to be a dad. I sulked through the whole rehearsal, then angrily blew off after-plans with a friend because he whined that he really needed me to come home. I was super-pissed because it's not like stay at home parents get sick days. When I got home at 10, the kid was still awake, watching LOST and eating a stick of butter like a popsicle, and I was PISSED. . . until I found my husband in bed with a 104.7 degree fever. When I said "OMG why didn't you call me to tell me to come home??!?" he just kept looking confused and saying "You weren't here. You wouldn't stay. You left. You weren't here." Several panicked phone calls and a massive dose of ibuprofen later, he was doing much better, but I learned the hard way that when my husband says he's sick, he's not screwing around.

Both of those stories also show a good way to end something; bring the perspective back internal to yourself. In both of them, you start off with your own feelings ("I had a surreal day" / "I was super pissed at my husband"). Then you narrate the events (unicycle, GLaDOS, giraffes / sulked through rehearsal, came home to find kid ignored, OMG husband is really sick). Then, you return to your own internal experience ("am I crazy or tripping?" / "Shit, I had better believe him next time.") The perspective shift helps signal that the story is over.

Last, stories go better when the teller is the butt of the idiocy. If I ever meet you in person, I will tell you my superglue story, in which I am an idiot with glue. My friend Elana also tells the same story, totally differently, but she prefaces it by saying "This story is about my friend Kathryn, who is one of the smartest people I know," which makes it easier to laugh at me because it doesn't so much come across as being mean.
posted by KathrynT at 1:54 PM on June 22, 2011 [9 favorites]

I thought about this question while I was at lunch, and was inspired by a story that I have told a fair number of times and always gets a good hearty chuckle at the end. It happens to be my favorite story, mainly because of a very silly ending. Being it is from a sexual exploit from college it's fairly NSFW.

If you are telling a funny story, you have to lay out enough details so people understand, but not so much that the story gets boring. Know your story inside and out, it helps if the story is true (see the movie Go in regards to that.) In my favorite story I tell I usually give a few details in regards to the ending, but not in a way that just gives everything away. Save the punchline to when it's appropriate. If you must wander to a different story to complete it, do so, but wander back quickly. If the subject changes entirely, don't continue the story. There will be another time and place for it.

Lastly, once you've told a good story, the people who heard it are more receptive to hear another. Likewise, if you tell bad stories, the people who heard them are less receptive. Make sure you have a really good one lined up for those that don't want to hear it anymore.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:16 PM on June 22, 2011

Boil it down to the essential points, and work around those points. I have a friend who's a bad storyteller. She'll start with "So I was hanging out with so-and-so. I met her like five years ago? No, it was seven. Oh! I know it was seven because...." et cetera. Way too much information. Way too much of the wrong information.

Don't do that.

Instead, figure out the points you want to make - as if you were writing a five paragraph essay. I have a great story about overhearing a too-long rant in a Tequileria in the St Louis airport, and it can take thirty seconds or five minutes to tell, but either way, there are a few points I hit that build up to the punch line. I can develop or elaborate on those points as much as I want, but either way, I hit them, and they contribute to the ending.
posted by entropone at 2:52 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

The best stories I tell are at my own expense. In your head, start with the punch line and work backwards. Sometimes even start with the punch line in the story.

"I am such an idiot. Just the other day I ..." This way everyone knows you are going to tell a funny story about someway you totally screwed up.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:27 PM on June 22, 2011

Don't be afraid to exaggerate to the point of telling outright lies.

Holy cow, yes. A loved one recently challenged me to adhere meticulously to the truth in all assertions I made. The effect was 1) that I became less able to communicate effectively, since my explanations became laden with unproductive convolution that could instead have been simplified, and 2) that my once-well-regarded anecdotes became boring, boring, boring. A good raconteur understands that storytelling is a creative outlet, not sworn testimony. Before you ever pitch it to an audience, review the story again and again for yourself, with an eye to what elements would make it more cinematic or more ironic or more delightful.
posted by foursentences at 6:12 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Exaggeration works, but often, sometimes stories just need to be "rearranged". Mix up chronology, either by actually placing events out of order, or merely saying them out of order, in a way that heightens whatever you're trying to say.

You'll need some "point"; a punchline, a surprise, etc. Everything in the story should either be reinforcing that point, or an intentional bad note to strengthen the reveal. If you're story doesn't have a point, invent one and make the facts fit.
posted by spaltavian at 7:37 PM on June 22, 2011

This is actually a skill you can learn --- I used to think I was boring and didn't have anything to say. I realize now that the problem is I was structuring my anecdotes wrong.

The most important thing in telling any story, like, absolutely basic, is that it have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is ESPECIALLY crucial for telling a good story that it actually have a proper ending, which is strangely the easiest thing to leave out. If it's missing this narrative structure then it's not a story, it's just a thing that happened.

The beginning is where you set up the scenario, and it's nice to have some incidental details here --- you know, where you were in your life then, what was going on, why you were where you were. You know, funny details about the friends you were with. You don't have to get crazy here, or get too carried away. Just a little colour to add a lend your story some specificity.

The middle is basically the whole story. This happened, then this happened, then this happened.

The end is the hard part, and the easiest to inadvertently omit. If it's a funny story, then this is the punchline; if it's a serious story, then this is the point. (I should note that it's best if you can tell a funny-serious story from the start, but whatever.) Basically, the story you're telling is building to this moment, and particularly if you're telling an anecdote, it's very difficult to have a proper ending to your story because we don't really get them in life. (The flipside to this is when something genuinely funny does happen and then you tell just the funny part, forgetting about the beginning and the ending, and it's funny, but I mean, who cares.)

What I do is that whenever something happens to me that I think would be worth telling other people about, I figure out what the ending is first. What is the point of this story? What is the punchline of the story? Even if, in real life, the incident was kind of generally funny and didn't have any specific punchline to it, your retelling needs to have a punchline.

The good news is, your punchline doesn't actually need to be all that funny, or even funnier than the rest of your story. In fact, to be totally honest, it doesn't even need to be that funny at all. Your audience will appreciate the general situation, the little twists and turns, the nuances that you're trying to get across. But that punchline needs to be there, because otherwise your story has no ending and then it's not a story, and I think audiences really respond to that. Because they're listening to you expecting a story with a beginning, middle and end. (And the reverse is true as well --- if you have an ending with no beginning or middle, those are going to have to come from somewhere.)

So, if you haven't figured it out by now, you will probably have to embellish things a bit. Not a lot, even --- you don't need to wildly exaggerate, or put in a bunch of witty dialog that was never said. But maybe you have to rearrange things so there's some kind of smooth narrative. Maybe you have to invent an ending. Maybe put a few funny words in somebody's mouth and that's the punchline. Maybe there's a part where afterwards, you tell of going home and reflecting on the experience and learning a few things, where in reality you just went home and forgot about it until the topic came up over beers.

This is not out and out lying because you are telling a story and not merely recounting some events. Real life is a tangled mess with no narrative structure whatsoever, and so if you want to get at the heart of something that happened and get that across to people in a way that is compelling and helps them understand what it means to you, you're going to have to finesse that story out of the mess in whatever way you can.

Because that's what a story is: a beginning, a middle, and an end.
posted by Tiresias at 7:58 PM on June 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, hold on. I just need to... *click* ... There we go, Favorited.

You and I share a similar problem. Hoo boy, am I ever familiar with that situation. I haven't pored over all the responses, but here's what's helped me.

- know the point of your story. Know what makes it funny or interesting. If you can't sort that out, just don't tell the story. If you really want to share something, like you feel you really need to communicate something, ask yourself, "what about this would other people find interesting, or at least would be able to relate to?"
Now that you know how your story ends, you have something to work towards. If an element doesn't help you get to the ending, don't include it. Stick to what's necessary for the ending to make sense/be funny.

- I disagree with the suggestion you need to exaggerate. Maybe exaggerate your feelings and reactions if you like, but if you have a story worth telling and you pick the details out carefully, that'll be enough.

- A cheap trick I like for keeping someone engaged is to ask a quick question, like, "you know, have you ever been driving along and you smell smoke and think it's your car? Yeah, so..." Sprinkle one, maybe two of those in there if you're so inclined.

- suspense! After the next point, I'll talk a bit about suspense.

- If you aren't feeling up to much storytelling, engage people by asking them about their stories an themselves, and learn to love it. People love being told really great stories, but they like being listened to and paid attention to just as much.

- I'm still figuring out how to add suspense, but if you know the point of your story, theoretically it should be as easy as hinting and teasing at the conclusion of the story. "I never thought anything good could come from picking up a hitchhiker..." ... You know great the story ends, but leave that info out til the very end. Assuming your story doesn't wander all over the place, your listener will be interested to know what good thing happens.

And... That's sort of all I got. That's the end.
posted by TangoCharlie at 11:01 PM on June 22, 2011

Yeah, just chiming in to say that you don't need to exaggerate if you do two things:

First, pay attention to details while shit's going down. Hit a few of them (but don't get bogged down) and you can set the scene effectively and use subjective emphasis to ground the story.

Second, feel free to add in pithy descriptions of how you felt or misconceptions or whatever was going on internally at the time, or even zings from your current self dished on your past self. Giving a quick, "It felt like," instead of "I said," makes your story a lot more believable and a lot less something that I'm going to be rolling my eyes at. You can still hit the good bits, just be honest with your audience that you're adding them in.
posted by klangklangston at 12:20 AM on June 23, 2011

Context is important, too, I find. Again, it's about getting ahead of your listener and estimating where their train of thought is at.
You could say, "...and I had to change the tire, which sucked", but that's dull.
"... So then i had to change the tire -- and I've never changed a tire before, either, so I don't know where the Jack goes or..."
... you turn yourself into a character for your listener to think about and you give your listener info about that character (he doesn't know how to change a tire), and you let your listener's imagination do the lifting. You're getting away from the simple basics ("it sucked") and giving your listener what they need to imagine how much it sucked.
Sort of related to "show, don't tell".
posted by TangoCharlie at 10:37 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

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