Does Size Matter?

Posted on September 25, 2012. Filed under: storytelling, writing | Tags: , , , |

Longer isn’t necessarily better. Length can be overrated.

For example, in the story I am performing this Saturday, I am going for laughs, and shorter, in this case, is funnier.

I tend to write in a somewhat laid back style. I am not naturally proficient with active verbs and short, punchy, sentences. But with comedy writing I think punchier is better. You want to get to the punchline before the audience does.

That being said, I am working with a storyteller on a draft of one of her stories and I truly think it needs to be longer. It’s about half the length of my story to fill the same amount of time, so she has wiggle room. In his case, what’s missing, what could make the story better and most likely funnier, is description.

Her story is almost like a series of punchlines tied together with a little bit of framing. It’s not quite there. It needs details. It needs emotion. We laugh more if we are emotionally attached to a character when that character gets embarrassed. If we don’t care, well, it might still be funny in a general sense, but not as funny as if we were feeling it.

So how to determine the length? It helps if you know the limit. If, for example, you are performing in a storytelling show and can’t go over 8 minutes, or should plan on filling 30 minutes. That gives you a guide. But if you don’t have a set amount of words, time, or other restrictions, how do you know how long to go?

Generally, with any kind of story, there are a few basic rules to keep in mind when deciding how much is enough.
1. Does the reader/audience know who the main character is – his wants, desires, needs, goals, etc. – at the beginning of the story and how that has changed by the end of the story? If not, you have some work to do.
2. Does the story have a beginning, middle and end? This may sound obvious, but a lot of people (in storytelling, at least) end their story with “that’s it,” or “the end” and don’t conclude it. You need a set up at the beginning, a middle – which is the easy part, and an ending that wraps everything up, or at least sounds like it was meant as a conclusion.
3. What’s the point? Hopefully you know what point you are trying to make when you set out to write a story – whether it be something deep about the meaning of life or something silly about how cats are cute. Whatever your point is, did you make it?
4. Would a stranger, someone who has absolutely no background on you or your story, understand? Sometimes when writing we forget that people outside of our head don’t know what’s in there. I know what the location looks like, I know how the character feels, and what the back story is – but the audience does not, unless I tell them. Figure out the important details – the people, places, descriptions that matter to the story – and make sure to include them outside of your own brain.

I could probably write a lot more about this, but the rules of blogging say I need to keep it short. And size definitely matters!

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