Yes, you. No matter who you are.
Now, you may not think you know how to tell a good story, but you’re wrong. Because if you’re reading this blog, then no matter who you are, you’re part of a generation that’s being trained every day to get better and better at telling stories.
Here’s how it’s happening, and why it’s a good thing.
The Death of Boring
Penelope Trunk is a business blogger who blogs about everything but business, which is why she’s such a good business blogger: she forces her readers to connect the dots.
I read her blog not because I need career advice but because she tells great stories. And actually, she doesn’t even do that; what she really does is tell stories well.
There’s a difference.
A great story works no matter who’s telling it, because it’s all about the hook. If CNN tells you a meteor is hurtling toward Las Vegas, you’re going to want to know how that story ends regardless of who the field reporter is.
But a story about nothing, or about something you have no interest in subject-wise, can become interesting if it’s told in a compelling way. This is why Grantland is an addictive blog even if you’re not a sports fan, or why The Rumpus and Marginal Revolution are must-reads even if you couldn’t care less about publishing or economics. For great storytellers, the subject matter is the MacGuffin around which the best stories are built.
What makes Penelope Trunk such an effective writer is that she takes seemingly mundane incidents from everyday life and weaves them, Raymond Carver-like, into blog posts that are about so much more than their amazingly sticky titles. (Sometimes they’re barely about their titles at all.)
James Altucher does this too, often brilliantly. And by “brilliant,” what I really mean is “blunt.” Penelope is one of his disciples, in writerly spirit at least. When they write, even if you disagree with them, it’s never easy to click away.
The bluntness of Altucher, Trunk and other purposely confrontational bloggers (Julien comes to mind) works because so much of the rest of the web’s writing doesn’t. Either it’s all unfocused or it’s misleading or it’s desperate or it’s redundant or it’s petty. We spend so much time cutting through the bullshit of the web and the world that we’ve reached a stage where gut punches are welcome changes of pace.
But that bluntness is only part of why their blogs work. Another aspect is their defiance of purpose. Penelope’s blog is about business, but it isn’t. James writes about investing, except he doesn’t. Julien intends to make you a better person, but he refuses to hold your hand while he’s doing it.
None of them get trapped by the sameness of their genre.
So while the vast majority of blogs, TV shows, novels and films continue to follow a formula, and panic when that formula is rewritten — or completely drop the ball when they try to rewrite it themselves — the best storytellers are the ones who disregard those formulas altogether, and use genres as a slipcover for whatever they really want to write about. Which is always themselves.
And that’s why we’re all becoming incredible storytellers: because the Internet rewards us when we’re most like ourselves, and least like everyone else.
So go ahead. Tell me a story.
And then keep telling more and more stories to everyone else, until no one knows what genre you’re supposed to fit into anymore, but they all know who you are. Not in a “personal branding” kind of way, but in a truly personal kind of way.
Because the stories we tell, and the ways we tell them, are how we remember who we are.