Crippling Blizzard Offers a New Perspective
What a day! I’d spent much of it shuttling my kids to lessons and medical appointments during a blizzard. Driving was treacherous and scary. My husband was laid up at home on pain medications recovering from surgery. Our oldest daughter, Abby, was home from college because of a knee injury.
It was evening and a few minutes earlier, I’d been feeling that our bad luck was behind us. An orthopedic consultation that day had revealed that Abby did not need surgery. Phew! We were all safe at home with dinner simmering on the stove.
As my ankle puffed up like a balloon and turned purple, the snow piled up outside—and kept coming down hard. Going to the ER in the blizzard was unthinkable. I relied on self-treatment with Ice-Compression-Elevation (ICE).
The next day, we woke to sparkling blue skies and news that the extreme snowfall had collapsed the roof of the old Minneapolis Metrodome. Ugh! We had a three-foot barrier at the end of our driveway. I could barely control my pain and anxiety, while our thirteen-year-old son valiantly shoveled a path out.
My daughters accompanied me to Urgent Care, where I learned it was a third-degree sprain, but no broken bones. Phew! The doctor sent me home with an ankle brace, crutches, and instructions to keep up the ICE treatment.
One of my daughters suggested that we stop at Target to pick up some essentials. I groaned at the idea of hobbling around a store. But when she deposited me at the door and pointed to a fleet of mobility scooters, I embraced the adventure.
Operating the scooter was harder than I thought. We had a lot of laughs about my herky-jerky maneuvers through the aisles of Target. Some shoppers darted around me to avoid my slow, erratic driving. Others graciously stepped aside to allow me to pass. Once I got the hang of scooter driving, I started to see merchandise that I’d normally miss. We took care of some holiday shopping that we hadn’t planned to do. Everything I accomplished felt special. My daughters’ laughter punctuated the day.
The sprained ankle gave me the gift of a fresh perspective on Holiday melee. Instead of miring in misery and frustration, my ride on the mobility scooter showed me empathy for how a wheelchair-bound person might experience the world. My chance to live someone else’s life for an hour refocused my appreciation on all my blessings. The crippling blizzard helped me see that my crises were relatively small—and all were transient.
Where to Begin a Story?
Seeing Holiday merchandize in Target and the first snowfall of the year sparked me to reflect on how eight years ago the blizzard, sprained ankle, and holiday stress crippled me … until I found a new perspective. This is a good time of year to think less about our own struggles and more about others. Plus, crises often trigger growth and learning—which generally provide ingredients for a good story.
As I started to write this story, I pondered where to begin. Should I start with the day my daughter injured her knee? Or the next day, when my husband landed in the ER with a kidney stone emergency? Seeing cars skid-out on the highway while I gripped the steering wheel was another dramatic moment.
When crafting a story about a life experience, it can be hard to choose the beginning moment because events in our lives string together like a bead of pearls. A common approach is to open by recounting the sequence of events that led up to a challenging situation. In Business Storytelling for Dummies, Karen Dietz refers to this as a “preamble start to a story.” Preambles produce long and rambling beginnings that fail to grab an audience’s attention.
Dietz advises business leaders to consider to two important elements of their story’s opening: selecting compelling opening line(s) and painting the picture (providing information about the context, setting, and characters). Let’s explore these and a few other considerations for the opening of a story.
Paint a Picture—Who are the people in the story? Who is the main character? Are there any villains? What is the source of tension? It might come from a villain, but tension may arise from a situation or internal conflict. Where does the story take place? What is significant about it? How might you help your audience witness that scene?
Choose the Triggering Event—Within a string of events, there will be one that is the defining moment when then story’s tension begins. I sprained my ankle in the midst of other family and environmental crises. Rather than opening with a chronological recounting of these events, I chose to begin with the moment that brought me to my knees—that was the triggering event that altered the course of my life for a while. After the opening, I wove-in some relevant, preceding events (husband’s surgery, daughter’s knee injury, blizzard). Letting go of the tendency to describe what happened chronologically will help you sort out where the story truly begins from the elements that provide supporting context.
Craft the Opening Lines—I find it helpful to sketch out the story elements with a pencil and scratch paper. I doodle, draw, and scribble to find connections. I let my brain wander with stream of consciousness, but also think critically about the key details. The eraser is very handy. Then I close my eyes, take a few deep breaths, and let myself imagine I’m in the scene. Often, the opening words will emerge from the combination of analytical thinking and creative breaks. Sometimes, the words come when I’m riding my bike, walking, or thinking about the story subconsciously.
Capture Attention—Help your audience see, hear, feel, taste, and smell what’s going on. Incorporate a few vivid details that help them witness what the characters experienced. Dialogue can be an efficient way to capture attention and reveal the setting and tension. Allow the most compelling elements to stand out by stripping away extraneous and distracting details. Just because you remember them, it doesn’t mean you have to include them.
“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”
― Graham Greene, novelist and author