When it comes to storytelling, the most important lesson I learned is to throw everything you were taught about essay writing in school out the window.
Storytelling isn’t about 25-page papers with big technical words or your ability to add a bunch of fluff just so that you can reach the required page count (why use 10 words to say something when you really only need one?). Writing should be conversational. Write how you speak, be clear and be concise.
Think of it this way: If you’re telling your friends a story, they’re going to start losing interest if you take more than a couple of minutes to tell it. You wouldn’t pull out your thesaurus and use the biggest words you can find or make your sentences really long.
Think of writing the same way. That doesn’t mean you have to eliminate your creativity. It’s just a matter of choosing your words carefully.
During the first year of Carleton’s journalism program, professors told us what was wrong with our stories instead of giving us a step-by-step guide to writing. It was a struggle for most, if not all of us, to break free from what we were taught in high school and our other university courses that asked for long papers.
One assignment that really helped with this transition was to read an excerpt from William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well. A lot of his ideas were reflected in our readings this week – being concise and using an active voice with plain language – but it’s still a great read if you can get your hands on it.
Have you ever struggled with the transition from formal writing to a more conversational tone? If so, how did you overcome it?