What Steve Martin and Michael Caine can teach us about storytelling
In the film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Michael Caine’s character Lawrence teaches Steve Martin’s character Freddy how to become a more effective con artist and says something akin to “It’s all about the details.”
The more detailed a con, the more someone is apt to believe it.
The same goes for story. A story based on generalities and concepts doesn’t ring true because that’s not how we live our lives. We live our lives paying attention to the details — How does something sound? How does something taste? What is the weather like at the moment something happens?
Those are important details, but too often non profit writers forget to include them.
I just came back from a two-day storytelling workshop with front line health professionals in Uganda. Throughout the workshop, I made this point again and again. Make me experience it. Make me feel it.
Here is how one young writer took my challenge. She began her story like this:
“Seated at her workplace — a hot, small metallic container with a mud floor and soot-covered walls — Grace goes about her usual business of making vegetable samosas, which she sells for a living.”
I don’t know Grace personally, but I feel like I have set foot in her samosa shop. And by doing so, I feel like I know her better.
That’s how you want your writing to feel. Make your audience experience it and they will believe it.
We’re not in the con business, but we are in the storytelling business. Michael Caine and Steve Martin would be proud.