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liminal's avatar

What makes an experience a great story?

Asked by liminal (7766points) May 3rd, 2010
15 responses
“Great Question” (3points)

Over the past three days my children have set up a stand, much like a lemonade stand (okay, an upside down box), but they are selling great ideas. They have made a big sign: ”Good Ideas, $1.00” They have had a few takers. So far, they have sold ”It is good to trust your heart.” and ”Someone should build a time-machine.

When it was time to come in for the night they left a handmade envelope on the box that said “Leave money here.” They didn’t think through how people would get their purchase though. They figured out that the empty envelope meant they should put their ideas on pieces of paper. So now, while the kids are doing lessons, the box sits unattended. The empty envelope laying next to a stack of ideas held in place by a rock.

What makes it a good story, for me, is the “adorable” factor, budding ingenuity, confidence, and some darn cute kids.

So, what do you think makes an experience a great story? Any examples?

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Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Something makes a connection on a certain level that hits close to home. The ah factor.

xxii's avatar


prolificus's avatar

OMG that is the best entrepreneurial idea ever!!!!!! Your kids ROCK!!!! They are going to be amazing leaders some day!!!!!!

Zen_Again's avatar

Actually, that is a pretty good idea for a story. A children’s story, of course. But I think the difference between a good story and a great story (and sadly, some sucky stories) is how they are told, i.e, written. Just as there are Oscars for screenplays – and there are Pulitzers and awards for writing – because there are great stories everywhere; writing one is a different ballgame entirely.


liminal's avatar

@Zen_Again Yes, the telling!

What you say also seems applicable to oratory and conversation. I have friends whose stories I can’t wait to hear, not just because of the content, but because of how they express and compose the story. Others, not so much.

@prolificus thank you, that is a sweet thing to say.

Jeruba's avatar

What makes an experience a great story is the ability to tell it.

I’m not being glib here. A person with a knack can make an engaging story out of a very small, trivial experience that amounts to almost nothing. Without it, she could have lived through Gone with the Wind and not be able to keep her best friend from yawning over the tale.

What makes it work is the subject of countless books, writers’ magazine articles, websites, lectures, workshops, seminars, and conferences.

You do have to pitch it to the right audience and use appropriate language, have something to say beyond the actual events of the narrative, pace it well, and deliver an outcome that lives up to the implicit promise of the story.

If this were my children, I might try for a short first-person magazine article after looking at parents’ magazines to see whether they publish that sort of thing. Writing stories for children is not easy.

wundayatta's avatar

The hero’s journey, of course. Traveling out into the world, battling a few monsters, overcoming them, finding the “boon” and bringing it home again. Your kids—and you—found more than a few boons in this adventure.

We are all the heroes in our own lives. The trick to turning an experience into a great story is learning how to see the hero’s journey in that experience. What did you set off to do? What got in your way? How did you overcome it? What did you learn as a result of that? How did you share that knowledge with others?

You can apply that formula to anything (if you are imaginative) and it becomes a story. It’s all, as I just found out @Jeruba said, about the ability to turn it into a story.

Word of warning. It’s all theory to me. I’ve never made a dime from any story I’ve told or written. It might all be bs.

njnyjobs's avatar

What makes experience a great story telling tool is that you don’t have to make things up. Everything’s been played out already in your mind. You know all the emotions involved in each chapter. . . . A lot of writers take inspiration from their own life experiences, whether they be memoirs or fact-based stories.

Jeruba's avatar

Agreeing back with @wundayatta here, the same basic story works a hundred thousand ways.

Not every story is an entire hero’s journey, although Campbell did demonstrate very well that all the great myths have this theme. A single story can be a small part of that. Some discovery or learning or growth has to take place. Real experience can be the starting point, but the creative act has to shape and interpret it. The moment you emphasize one detail and omit another, you are an artist and not a documentarian.

A boon is a favor, not a treasure or reward. You go to the king to seek a boon, to be allowed some favor, such as to go on a quest in his name.

liminal's avatar

Just a note, I don’t think of myself as a writer. I am not thinking about doing anything with the story I shared. I simply noticed, that out of all the things they did these past days, their “idea stand” was the one I referred to in conversation with others. It has me thinking about what made this particular experience something I wanted to tell, rather than something else.

Cruiser's avatar

IMO there is no greater story to tell than that of the world through a child’s eyes. That innocence and raw ingenuity fueled by their own imagination and desire to find answers to their questions. Had they “consulted” with you prior to their endeavor there, no doubt your input would have colored their experience. I have dozens of similar stories of what my kids amazed me with their own interpretations of life…thanks for sharing!

Trillian's avatar

A great story is in the telling. Listen to Garrison Keillor sometime. He can ake going into the basement for potatoes sound hilarious.

Jeruba's avatar

Ah, @liminal, different question. I think the way you worded it originally, it contained some trigger words for us writer types. Not to criticize your question—only to explain why I think we all misread your intent. It seemed as if you were describing exactly what many of us are trying to do.

Now, if you’re asking what kind of incident you find yourself telling and retelling to friends (whether of your own experience or of someone close to you), so that it becomes one of your stories, I think you might draw different responses.

Some of the same comments apply—ability to tell it is still important—but it’s more about the content than the delivery. An interested and forgiving audience can be assumed, in this case, and not a hard sell to an overloaded market.

janbb's avatar

I think a great experience story has punch – impact – and tells something about the human experience that others can identify with. We have a wonderful “dog on the beach” story about my husband’s encounter with the local judiciary that has all the impact of Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant. We have been telling it for 20 years and it always gets a great response. (The only hero in this story is my husband who hated my dog but ended up being the one who had to go to court because he was the one on the beach with a driver’s license!)

liminal's avatar

@Jeruba That makes sense. I purposely wrote the question to be a bit abstract. I was hoping for a variety of responses and I like how that is happening. I like hearing how you writer types think about story. It is enlightening. I hope the variety continues!

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