The mistake I’ll share today is counterintuitive. In some ways it goes against the fiber of what some people think storytelling and blogging are really about. But I think this one mistake causes us all to lose more readers and tell weaker stories than just about anything. Here’s the mistake:
“We don’t leave any room in our stories for the readers.”
Why is that a mistake?
What does that mean?
Simple, as a storyteller, you’re job isn’t to complete the story. Your job is to catalyze the story. You are the starting line, the jumping off point, the beginning. But you’re not the end.
Because the most powerful stories are the ones we tell ourselves.
The reason is that we each have our own internal language. I personally have 34 years of inner dialog I can draw on when you start a story for me. And I will write the ending with words and experiences that reach me in unique and engaging ways that no storyteller has access to.
Take the beach. If you begin a story or a blog post about the beach and allow me to “write the ending in my head,” do you know what I will write? I will write about how it felt to ride my bike to Crane’s Beach, in Ipswich, Massachusetts. We didn’t have a lot of money then, my dad was painting houses to put himself through seminary, but we had the beach. On long fall days we would buy apples from a local farm and sit on the beach and look at the castle that overlooked the water, a gothic monster rising from the dunes and someone’s imagination. They held the Senior Prom there and sometimes I’d wonder what that would be like, never knowing third grade would be my final year living on the North Shore of New England.
That’s what I would write, but only if you left me enough room to tell my story in the middle of your story. If you pack it too full, if you put too much of yourself in your blog or your story, you won’t leave any space for me the reader.
Advertisers have known this for years. That’s why Porsche ads are so minimalistic. They have a headline, a photo of the car and then white space. That photo and the headline serve as a catalyst. The white space? That’s a canvas for you to finish the story.
This approach doesn’t work for every blog or every story.
I write action, not art. I am more interested in the reaction to something I share than just the act of what I am sharing. So if you’re a poet or an artist in a different way than I am, disregard this. If you write your blog for catharsis, to get out what’s inside, don’t worry about leaving space. But if you want life change, if you want to engage someone with something more powerful than your own story, make sure you leave them room to tell their own.