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How To Tell A Compelling Story

I watched The Inventor: Out for Blood, the documentary about Elizabeth Holmes, that aired on HBO last week. She basically created a machine that would take a drop of blood and run 200+ tests in a matter of minutes, getting rid of the need to have vials of blood drawn and sent off to labs.

Except, the machine didn’t work.


She kept on going though! Scammed a ton of people and corporations. People like Henry Kissinger and General Mattis and corporations like Walgreens. Lots of regular people went in to have their blood drawn and tested by faulty machines, and got results that couldn’t be trusted, but they had no idea. They thought the machine she created worked. How scary is that?

I love these type of documentaries. Obviously, to be the victim of such fraud is terrible and my heart goes out to anyone impacted by scammers like Elizabeth Holmes.

But I write about con artists.

Well, I write about one con artist. And so this fraud stuff is fascinating to me. Now, Bee...see, she would have peaced out well before Elizabeth Holmes did. And she wouldn’t have scammed innocent, every day people.

But I digress. This documentary sparked a blog post idea because of something one of the people being interviewed said.

“So the reality is that data just doesn’t sit in our mind as much as stories do...And even more important, stories have emotions that data doesn’t. Emotions get people to do all kinds of things, good and bad.”

Dan Ariely, behavioral economist.

And wow, did that appeal to the writer in me. (Also, if you are a con artist like Bee, – hello welcome please don’t scam me – this is useful information to keep in mind! Lie all you want as long as you have a convincing story attached.)

There are so many components to writing. Plotting, or world building, scene setting or WHATEVER – but our most important job as writers is to tell a compelling story.

Okay. Awesome.

So. How do we do that?

Readers need to relate to the characters we are writing. Even if we’re writing super fantastical characters who can do things that us mere mortals never can. There needs to be something that we can connect to. That’s what compels us to keep reading. We are rooting for them to achieve the relatable thing they are trying to achieve, even if they’re doing it by flying around and shooting lasers out of their fists.

Let’s take Captain Marvel, for example. Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the movie. I’ve only seen it once, so it’s possible I’m going to get things wrong.

Carol Danvers can literally shoot lasers out of her fists. I can’t do that. She can fly. Again, I haven’t yet mastered flight. She can like glow and stuff, and her hair can flutter even when there’s no wind.

I can’t relate to that. I can’t relate to her taking out like twenty bombs at one time.

But you know what I can relate to?

A regular, human woman, falling down and getting back up. Over and over again.

It’s these small moments that matter. These bits of connection that inspire us. That play to our emotions, both good and bad.

I’m interested in hearing your tips on telling a compelling story! What do you do to keep readers invested?