Engaging Culture

STORY-telling Versus RE-telling

I have this theory that people today don’t tell stories – they re-live conversations.  Years ago, on the ski slope in Park City, I got on a chair lift with three 15 year old girls.  In describing an encounter with a friend, they didn’t tell the story, they relived the conversation – word for word:

“And then I told Mary that wouldn’t work.  Then she said, “well”, and then I said, so what do we do?  Then she said fine, we’ll go to the mall, and then I said, that sounds good, when do you want to go?  So she said – and on and on and on….”

The next day, I was in line for a movie at The Sundance Film Festival, talking to a couple of directors about their recent projects.  But rather than tell the story of where a particular project was, they re-counted complete and detailed conversations going back years with studio people, money people, and crew.  Not only was it incredibly boring, but it took 10 times as long to tell as a simple description of the project.

In other situations I’ve seen job promotions missed and sales lost because rather than telling a simple story, the person re-lived complete conversations, turning everyone off in the process.

Perhaps I’m more attuned to it because I’m a “get to the point” guy.  My philosophy is “Don’t tell me about the labor pains, just show me the baby.”  And the truth is, a well told story is far more powerful and compelling (and certainly interesting) than recreating the actual event word for word. But I wonder if our culture has dumbed down to the point where we’ve lost the ability to tell stories well.  So we just re-state the conversations.   We can’t be descriptive, so we become transcriptive.

So if you’re together with a friend over coffee, re-create whatever you want.  But if you’re in a conversation with people you don’t know well, or business associates, or at a social gathering, then leave the excruciating detail at home.

Give us the story – without re-living every word.  

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  1. In professional conversation, I agree with you Phil.  For professional conversations, transcription is probably not the best practice in which to engage.  But I admit, I may at times find myself encouraging the very activity you've blogged to discourage.  As a screenwriter (director), I like tend to want to know "what they said" and "how they said it" because dialog can have meaning!  Whoever 'they' are.  But I guess that's because I'm curious and I'm always in "research" mode.

    However, I do agree that we may be losing the ability to tell stories well.  How can we change that?

  2. Hi Phil. I agree. What gets me is that some folks needlessly over-detail a conversation extending the details by frequently saying "I was like…." adding phrases they wished they had said or were simply thinking. I'll sometimes stop them and say "wait a minute, did you really say that or were you just "like" that?" I don't mind the interjection of their thought process, but it can get excessive and as such boring. Story telling may be a lost art.

  3. You're so right, Phil.  I'm a "get to the point" person too and yet I realize that others are not.  Whether in a professional or personal discussion, there's nothing more exasperating than elongated rehashments of situations/predicaments with mountains of meaningless,details!  My eyes glaze over, my backbone starts to slip into a fetal position,I have to fight the urge to slip my thumb in my mouth and twist my hair.  It's AWFUL!  I just want to yell, "Get to the point, for crying out loud!"  But, I don't.  I try to show grace and help them get to the point by interjecting appropriately. 

    Thanks for letting me vent!

  4. I agree so much I like told everybody about what you wrote andthen I tol;d then how when you came to Pittsburgh and we were together you said…NOT! Lord help me!

    Any books or resources you can direct us to to be better storytellers?

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