Telling Better Stories

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This past Monday I had the opportunity to spend the day at the Evangelical Press Association’s annual convention. According to their website , the EPA is a “professional association of Christian publications — magazines, newspapers and newsletters — and content-rich websites.” The conference was held in Anaheim, CA about an hour drive from our church. While not intended for local church communicators, this conference features some of the top Christian writers and journalists in the field. I was bound to learn something good. Little did I know…

I’m so glad I went!

Story telling has never been my strength. I know a good story when I hear it, but I have a hard time describing what makes it good. I had several “light bulb moments” in one of the breakouts that helped me categorize and identify what makes a story (or photograph) strong or week.

The breakout was hosted by Jim Killam and Lincoln Brunner. (I had the privilege of meeting these two about a year ago when they stopped by our church to tell us about their unique training ministry.)Their new book GO TELL IT: How and Why to Report God’s Stories in Words, Photos, and Videos was recently released and their talk was on taking photographs in a cross-cultural setting. They showed several pictures of their work and shared behind the scenes stories of the people they encountered and how they took the shots.

My big takeaways were that good stories (and photographs) IDENTIFY AND LEVERAGE metanarratives and are told from the perspective of the representative “one.”

Identify the Metanarrative

A metanarrative is “a grand narrative common to all.” They are universal themes common to the human experience. As I reflected on this, you can identify “weaker” and “stronger” metanarritives. For example:

like vs love
happiness vs joy
want vs destitute
friendship vs brotherhood
progress vs triumph
lost vs abandoned
found vs rescued

The stronger and more emotionally charged the metanarrative, the better the story potential. This means that every story that comes your way isn’t necessarily a candidate for inclusion. You have to collect and curate your story list and invest in telling the best ones.

Write From The Perspective
Of The Representative “One”

Every person has their own unique perspective. Instead of writing from the big picture “we” perspective, write from the vantage point of the individual.

Which is more compelling…

We have a ministry called “The Welcome Home Team” that helps the homeless. Our vision is to restore broken families who are without a home. 

or

My name is Martha and I volunteer with the Welcome Home Team and have a passion for helping the homeless in our community. I have the privilege of helping people like Jamaal find permanent housing. 

or even better…

My name is Jamaal and I’ve been homeless for the last 5 years. Martha and the Welcome Home Team helped me restore my dignity by finding me and my family permanent shelter.

For mission trips and other ministry presentation, often we do the EXACT OPPOSITE. We get the best presenter and have them tell the stories of what everyone did. ie “First we went here, then we went there” as a travel log, missing the heart behind the trip. Instead, identify someone from your group that can share from their perspective…or identify a individual from from the group that your team interacted with who can represent the kind of impact your ministry had.

Take a look at your past presentations. What could you have done differently? By identify the metanarrative and add a personal perspective into your photography and writing, you’ll move from just sharing “interesting information” to telling stories that can change lives by engaging people’s hearts, minds and emotions.

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2 thoughts on “Telling Better Stories

    • Thanks Greg. As you know firsthand, words and images have the power to influence and engage. Curating content and leveraging the best techniques with the best story possibilities gives you your best shot.

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