best practices character selection self-advocacy

Don’t make a long story too short

Board trainings are the best. One day, a buttoned up guy with a fabulous head of silver hair—we’ll call him Peter—moved himself to tears. He sat in a windowless conference room surrounded by a dozen fellow board members he had just met. Peter told us a story about a teenage hooligan, Jimmy, falling through the cracks. A very special nun, Sister Bea, went to bat for Jimmy and got him a gig as an orderly.

As Peter spoke about Jimmy’s struggles and Sister Bea’s compassion he choked up. The group was silent, drawn in. We were so eager to learn what this magical nun did for a forgotten boy (and what was so moving to Peter). We were bated, hoping it turned out alright. But then Peter did what so many professionals in a room full of colleagues do. He said, “So long story short, Jimmy is an ER doc now.”


Cut to the chase…don’t cut the chase out.
The story was just getting good. We were ready to cry tears of joy with Peter. We wanted to know how a hoodlum kid only a nun could love turned into a lifesaver…and we didn’t get to hear it.

Don’t fast forward through the transformation.
Spend the bulk of your stories on the wild ride between the time the protagonist gets thrown for a loop/hits rock bottom and the big crescendo. Take the movie the Matrix. It’s not “Mr. Anderson gets arrested and yadda yadda yadda now his name is Neo and he can stop bullets and fly.” Don’t skip the part where he meets Trinity, the supercool hacker, and learns the secrets of THE FREAKING MATRIX.

Here’s another one. While scrubbing a fireplace, the overworked, grieving housemaid Cinderella receives an invitation to a ball and yadda yadda yadda she is queen of the kingdom. Whoa. Slow your roll. Don’t skip the weird parts about the fairy godmother or stepsister maiming. The journey IS the story.

Audiences want to hear what happens to your clients AFTER they meet you.
Your audiences don’t need the laundry list of misfortunes that bring people to your door. We want to hear more about what happens after Jimmy meets Sister Bea, after Neo meets Trinity, after Cinderella meets the fairy godmother.

Fast foreword through backstory.
There is one place to keep your long story short—cut out the backstory. We don’t need it. One sentence will usually do. Neo was a programmer with a miserable cubicle job. Cinderella was an abused orphan. Jimmy was a latchkey kid in a dangerous neighborhood. That’s enough for your audience to want something powerful to shake things up for the protagonist…like the part where you come in.

Can you think of a story your organization is telling where you can trim the fat from the backstory and add some gravy to the middle?
And since we’re on the topic of nuns, that’s a picture of Hildegard of Bingen, aka Saint Hildegard. She was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary, and polymath. Is it kosher to call a nun a badass?

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