Building Great Stories


We live stories first, then we tell them. But sometimes the excitement of the original experience can feel lost by the time we're recounting it to someone else. This feeling can be even more exaggerated when we sit down to write about what we did or learned or felt an hour, a day or a week ago.
Below are some tips to help you capture the essence of your experience through storytelling. Use this information BEFORE you embark on your project or activity, as a reminder of which information you should keep your eyes and ears open for. Or, refer to this information AFTER your project as a "cue" for recalling details to write about or choosing which images tell your story best.
Remember, you're telling a story with both words and images, so consider these suggestions whether you're pointing a camera, wielding a microphone or tapping at the keyboard.


Before you start your story, give your readers some context. Most blogs have an "About" section -- a few sentences that describe what the blog is about, its author(s) and why it exists at all. Think of the "About this blog" as similar to the synopsis on the back cover of a book. What questions might a reader have when they first start following your blog?

What entity is responsible for the work being described on the blog? (Company, department, name of an initiative, etc.)

Who is writing the blog? (One individual? Many?)

What is the blog documenting, exactly? (A single project? Several projects or activities?)
How the blog will be used?  (To share information, internally? To share information with a community? Both? Etc.)

A compelling story does more than simply list or describe events. Even as you document day-to-day or event-to-event activities, keep in mind that stories have a standard shape.

Exposition: Sets up your reader with some background on the story and the essential conflict or problem you and/or the other people you're working with are  trying to remedy or solve.

Rising action: This part of the story builds suspense and leads up to a climactic moment. What are you doing to prepare for your project? What are all the pieces of the project experience?

Climax: This is where the story "turns" -- a discovery is made or the race is run. Usually the characters overcome a barrier to "getting the job done." This might be where you describe

Denouement: This is the "falling action" of the story. How do people feel, afterward? What kind of response did the activity receive?

Resolution: How did it all turn out in the end? What needs were met? What will happen next?

It's helpful to identify the problem or conflict -- the "drama "-- early on. This will give you a focal point around which to form your story. Sometimes the drama of your story might describe a large problem (Lack of after school program staff in an inner city neighborhood. ), other times the drama might be extremely personal (A single mother of three loses her home to a fire.). Many times, we enter a situation thinking we're helping solve one problem, only to discover the problem lies elsewhere.

Ideally, by the end of your story, the problem or drama has, at least, been remedied if not solved.

When you sit down to write about your volunteer or project experience, you may ask yourself, "What should I write about?" Here are some questions you can use as writing cues:

On the project/event...
What was the state of affairs before the project started?
What is th problem we are trying to address

On motivation...
How did you or your company/organization find the project or story?
What is the impetus behind getting involved with the project? For you, as a participant? For your company / organization?
Why are you participating in this project? What makes it compelling to you?
What research (facts, figures, quotes, etc.) to support reasons for engaging in this project?

On the setting...
What is the physical environment like that you're working in?

On people...
Who is involved in this project (both collaborators and recipients of your services)?
Who are these people, as individuals?
What are their home lives like? Their professional or school life? What are their hopes, dreams and history with the project?
Recall a conversation you had with someone or a quote you heard that reflects answers to these questions.

On action...
What kind of work are project participants doing? At a particular event? Over a longer period of time?
Describe the details of

Observations & perspective...
What is fun about this project?

What is your most favorite part of this project? Least favorite?
What is the most unexpected part of the project?

What discoveries have you (or others) made over the lifetime of the project? About the issue? Someone involved in the project? Your company? A new skill?
What themes are emerging in this projectt?
Has your point of view changed in some way over the course of the project?
How does your point of view differ from others' involved in the project?

On "results"...

How was the problem solved?
What is the state of affairs at the end of the project?

What do you believe is the impact of this project? On the community? On your company / organization?
What are the "metrics and numbers" for the project? How did you measure participation and impact?
Would you participate in this type of project again?
What would you differently, next time?
What kind of difference do you think you made?

What do you want to see happen next? At the project site? In your company / organization?