by Martha Krienke
On November 9 I flew to Chicago to attend the 2016 Nonprofit Storytelling Conference. On the drive from Midway to my hotel on Michigan Avenue, my Uber driver said there had been protests at the Trump Tower less than two miles from where I was staying.
Not knowing what was really going on, my mind immediately pictured tear gas, cars on fire, policemen wearing helmets, and people throwing stuff.
Maybe traveling to a metropolis the day after the election wasn’t such a good idea, I thought.
Arriving at the hotel, I pulled my suitcase from the trunk and dragged it to the revolving doors. No riots here. Phew!
Save the Cat
The next day I navigated my way around the hotel, attending various seminars about how to write better stories. As I sat down at each table, people politely introduced themselves. I met other professionals from hospitals, universities, organizations related to the arts, an animal shelter, and foundations.
The session titled “Save the Cat! How to Grab Your Reader at the Get-Go with Relatable Characters” was one of the most memorable.
The speaker, Mark Rovner, started his presentation with a quote he heard from a TED Talk: “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”
That’s tweetable, I thought as I jotted it in my notebook.
Long Story Short
Mark then described what makes a character relatable. A few examples:
- Someone with relatable pain or suffering.
- Someone unfairly treated.
- Someone who must make a tough moral choice.
- Someone with a sense of mystery.
- Someone who is funny.
- Someone who is proactive.
- Someone who is good at what he/she does.
- Someone with puppies, kittens, or cute kids.
Then he gave us a challenge: “With the people around your table, write a 60-word story about President-elect Donald Trump. Make him relatable.”
Loud groans spread across the room and around my table. I feared another protest might break out. But then the timer began, and we got to work.
Things in Common
One by one, we threw out ideas to make Trump relatable.
“He has great kids.”
“He is good at what he does.”
“His hair is funny.”
“He feels like the media has treated him unfairly.”
“He was proactive to run for president.”
When time was up, volunteers from each group took turns reading their stories aloud. Some were silly; some were angry. Some were touching.
I’m not sure that anyone changed political parties that morning, but the mood in the room changed. After all, “there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”
So I ask myself: Am I listening to people’s stories?
Listening is an essential first step to following Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).
Martha Krienke is the managing editor of Alliance Life magazine.