Looking for Trouble

Earlier today I guest lectured in Chiara Ojeda’s Professional Communication and Presentation class. Entertainment and Music Business students take this class and were my audience for the storytelling lecture, which I present nearly every month to new groups of students. I’m always so impressed with how engaged the business students are during this lecture. They actively participate, contribute, and analyze. It’s warm melty chocolate on this writing teacher’s heart.

I always start with a question: what makes a good story? I love watching the hands fly up as students tick off their lists. Characters they can relate to. Emotional connection. Empathy. Surprise. Lessons. Morals. No one ever says “explosions” or “awesome CGI.” I tell them they can use movies and TV shows as examples, but they still focus on what’s really important in stories, on the meat, on the things that have made people continue to tell stories since the beginning of time.

After we talked about what makes a good story we talked a bit about structure and how you can structure a presentation like a story to appeal to your audience. We talked about how only trouble is interesting (an old creative writing adage) and I showed them my favorite story structure video, which I use in my Creative Writing class. You can view it below.

This video works well for several reasons. Of course, Vonnegut is charmingly entertaining to watch, even in that old bad quality video. He uses examples we’re familiar with and simplifies concepts without dumbing them down. He also focuses on that idea of trouble as the interesting part, as evidenced by the hilarious “boring, boring, boring” line he drops on Cinderella’s few moments of bliss in his breakdown of her story.

As a storyteller, I relish in unfortunate things that happen to me (to a degree–not crazy bad, but bad until you look back on it and it becomes funny) because they certainly do make for good stories. Nothing is worse than someone asking you what’s going on in your life when you have nothing entertaining to say. Sure, if everything is great, your job is perfect, you got a raise, you got married, you’re having a baby, your dog won a beauty pageant, and you won the lottery you’ll have plenty to brag about, but you’ll run out of things to say in ten seconds and the recipient of your news will not only be bored, but annoyed and probably a little jealous. But if you had a terrible day? If you spilled coffee on your new pants, then found out you got partnered for a project with your arch nemisis, then a bird stole your hat, and then you threw up blue Kool Aid, even though you hadn’t consumed blue Kool Aid since 1987–well, then you’ve got something to say that’s worth listening to. We want to hear about that. That’s why drama in television and movies exists. If everyone started out happy then why would we watch? Things have to get worse before they get better. You can’t have a happily ever after without some strife and fight. When you tell a story you have to look for trouble.

After the lecture today a student approached me and in true business student fashion shook my hand and thanked me for my presentation. She told me she loves creative writing and that it bums her out that there are no writing classes for her program, even though business people don’t need creative writing, to which I promptly disagreed. Creative writing is relevant everywhere. I told her that the best letters of recommendation I’ve written involve telling stories about the subjects of the letters. I told her that salespeople are business people, and a good salesperson knows how to tell a good story or he won’t sell a thing. Entrepreneurs who are good storytellers flourish. And goodness knows that any business person who is worth something causes plenty of trouble.

Here’s to death, destruction, drama, and lost glass slippers.


About Jaclyn Sullivan

I'm a full time Instructional Designer and a sometimes adjunct professor of English Composition. I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida and I'm a published fiction and non-fiction writer. Check me out on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jaclynmsullivan I'm a big fan of post-modern literature and swear by the lessons of Kurt Vonnegut. Some of my favorite writers include Lorrie Moore, Antonya Nelson, Grace Paley, Flannery O'Connor, Louise Erdrich, and Raymond Carver. I like Tom Waits, Andrew Bird, actual birds, pictures of cats, actual cats, animals in general, polka dots, exercise, iced coffee, reading, writing, tv-viewing, the Internet, and food. I dislike rain on days when my hair looks good, sweating, t-rex arms, public bathrooms, books being made into awful movies, and when The Walking Dead is on hiatus.
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One Response to Looking for Trouble

  1. Dan Foley says:

    I was just watching this clip the other day. I was cracking up! He’s so funny. I don’t like his take on suspense but I can feel where he is coming from. Thanks for sharing!

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