4 Surprising Elements of Better Stories
Two months ago my wife and I set out on the adventure of a lifetime as we adopted two kids with special needs from China.
As we anticipated the 23 day trip, visiting 6 different cities, and adding two beautiful children to our family, we prepared ourselves. We read books and Wikitravel. We took a Mandarin class. We were excited and ready for anything. Well, almost anything.
Halfway through, we found ourselves in what felt like an impossible predicament. We were stuck in an airport in the middle-of-nowhere China.
We had just picked up our son, and were ready to travel to a different city to do the same for our daughter.
When we arrived at the airport, we went through the standard procedures. Checked in. Made it through security. Found the gate. Boarded on time. Raised our seat backs and tray tables into the upright position. Pretended to power off all of our electronic devices. The plane was pushed back from the gate. And the pilot turned on the engines.
Then something happened that I have never before experienced. An announcement was made by the pilot that we were unable to comprehend until the entire plane let out a huge groan. We were pushed back to the gate and everyone got off.
We were told that there was a mechanical problem and that the flight would be delayed from a takeoff of 2:45pm to 5pm. When 5pm came, they said 8pm. When 8pm came, they stopped saying anything at all.
We were stuck in a small Chinese airport with little understanding of what was going on or when the delay would end, and we were the only two non-Chinese people in the entire building. Maybe the entire city.
The delay lasted 10 hours. In addition, we had a 21 month old baby that we had just met 6 days prior. A recipe for an incredible difficult scenario.
And as it turns out, an incredibly good story.
We had our doubts in the middle of it, but we survived. We eventually made it to our destination safe. But we also learned something else. This experience is the stuff of an incredible story. Besides meeting our children, we tell this one most often.
From this experience I learned 4 elements of better stories.
1. Good stories are unpredictable.
Most of us would set out on an incredible adventure if we could predict what would happen along the way. If we knew that we would arrive at the end of it safe. But knowing the outcomes isn’t a characteristic of a good story. In fact, we never get the a guarantee of safety or success. So many choose to stay home, where they know what will happen. Television. Video games. Sodas. Pizza.
The best stories are told when we can’t predict what will happen, but step out of the front door anyways.
2. Good stories will make you uncomfortable.
One reason my wife and I love to tell this story of the airport is because of how uncomfortable we were the entire time. How stuck we felt. How frustrated we were when another delay was announced. How scared we were when angry passengers would storm the information desk yelling and pounding firsts.
If the plane had taken off on time and we had arrived at our destination without any discomfort, the story would have been boring. One that would never be told. To live a really good story, you have to say bye to being comfortable.
3. Good stories will force you to try something new.
Maybe you will try to fight the mob of people storming the information desk. Maybe you will search the entire airport until you find someone who can speak good enough English that you can understand. Maybe you will eat the food they hand out without knowing for sure what it is or how it was prepared.
In a good story, you won’t have any other choice but to think differently.
4. Good stories will bring out the worst parts of you.
If it sounds like a confession, it is. We were both grouchy, irritable, and angry. The only way to change is to confront those parts of yourself that need to change. A really good story will bring out these bad parts of you and force you to deal with them head on. If we do this often enough, over time, there will be change.
Next time you are surprised by an incredibly difficult and uncomfortable situation that forces you to do something you never expected and reveals the worst parts of yourself, get excited. You are about to embark on an incredible story.
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