The Story I Never Should Have Told
by Stacie Stark
Recently, I spoke to a women’s Bible study and opened with this story.
I spent five summers lifeguarding back when we reached for baby oil instead of sunscreen. Now, I schedule regular skin cancer screenings.
Last month, I tried a new dermatologist. After a thorough skin cancer check, she said, “Have you ever considered Botox?” Immediately, my hand went to my forehead and I said, “Oh, you mean these lines? They’ve always been there.” And she said, “No, I wasn’t talking about those. I’d need to use so much product on those that it’d probably cause your eyebrows to droop. I’m talking about your ‘11s’ — you know, the two little lines between your eyebrows. If you don’t start treating those with Botox, you may develop a perpetually angry-looking face.”
Before that appointment, I had often thought about the lines on my forehead, which, apparently, I’m stuck with for life, but I never noticed my 11s. Guess what’s the only thing I see when I look in the mirror now? My ever-deepening 11s. Are they better today? Do I look angry yet?
My story got my audience cry-laughing. However, it was also the worst story I have ever told in my six years teaching the Bible.
When I finished the lecture, many women waited to talk to me. Not one spoke of the value God places on our bodies (my intended point), but I did get five referrals for doctors who do great Botox.
Storytelling is an essential, but difficult, part of every writer’s job. Here are some tips to help you craft stories you’ll be glad you told.
Feed your central idea only.
Everything we write has a main point. Every story we tell should feed that main point. If you are telling the story for any other reason than to fuel your main point, you shouldn’t use it.
The only reason I used the Botox story was because I was also going to tell a deeply sad story about personal loss. I felt I needed to prime the audience with levity before things got heavy. What happened instead was that the funny story blocked the absorption of the sad, meaningful, God-glorifying story that was to follow.
Tune your TMI radar.
TMI (“too much information,” in its acronym form) is the term used when one offers too many personal, private details in a story that would have been better kept to oneself. These details often leave the writer feeling overexposed and the reader feeling uncomfortable.
We often justify our TMI moments by deeming them uniquely valuable in moving our readers to our main point. In that case, if the purpose for which you told the story doesn’t pan out, would you regret telling it?
The Botox story was worth telling when I thought it would produce gratitude for how greatly God values our bodies, wrinkles and all. That purpose was not met. Was I still OK sharing this experience? I thought so, until someone who I didn’t know, but who was at the lecture, came up to me weeks later and commented on my 11s. Then it felt too personal.
Consider the milk drinkers.
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul reminds us: “But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:9, NLT).
We have a responsibility as communicators of God’s Truth to write for all levels of our Christian community — those who are ready for meat and those who are still drinking milk. If what we write will negatively impact another’s walk with Christ, we should not write it.
Women’s body issues fall into this category. My dermatologist’s recommendations may have been funny to me; however, months after telling this story, I heard women comment about checking their 11s that morning. It broke my heart. I had inadvertently caused women I care about to focus on their flaws just like that dermatologist had done to me.
You can’t dodge every difficult topic, but consider the impact the stories you share may have on those reading them. The Holy Spirit will make you uncomfortable if a story should not be told. Be sensitive to His leading even if it means crafting a new story at the last minute. Switching gears is always worth it if you are being prompted to do so.
Write with the delivery in mind.
Writing for speaking is different than writing for reading. Writing for reading can be beautiful and melodic as you weave a tapestry of words that convey environment and emotion. Writing for speaking can also be beautiful, but it must be conversational first. I want you to talk to me as if you are talking to a friend, and I don’t weave tapestries of words when I’m talking to a friend.
Not sure if your writing is speak-worthy? Try saying it out loud. Does it sound like you’re reading from a book? Do the words flow naturally out of your mouth, or do you stumble on them as you read? Do the details feel too thick, meaning they slow you down from getting to the main point? Are all the details truly needed to move the story forward? Extra detail is acceptable in writing for reading, but it can feel rambling from a speaker.
If I wrote my Botox story to be read, you would have gotten rich detail on the depth and length and history of the lines in my forehead, lines I remember running my fingers over as a second grader in Mrs. Swanson’s class. In lecture format, however, that detail would have weighed down my story and sounded out of place.
Don’t be the hero.
If someone is going to look silly in your story, it’s you. If someone gets embarrassed or told they have an angry face, it’s you. Even if you’ve asked approval from another person to use a story in which they looked silly, the audience will have a difficult time laughing at someone else’s expense. It will make the audience uncomfortable. When you poke fun at yourself, you give implicit permission for the audience to laugh along with you.
Similarly, never make yourself the hero of the story. The one who made a great decision. The one who executed a situation perfectly. You will connect more authentically with your reader when you admit the bad decisions and the mistakes. Our imperfections are what make us relatable. By all means, show your growth and reveal what you’ve learned along the way, but whenever possible, also show the messy route it took to get there.
Consider for a moment if my story was about how the dermatologist was amazed at how great my skin looked and how shocked she was that, at my age, I didn’t need any Botox at all. Need I say more?
Now, go craft those stories with confidence, and may God bless your work!
Written By Stacie Stark
September 12, 2023
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