A Story Makeover

Story Writing Tips

Every story is interesting. If you make it interesting.
kswanson

The Difference In A Good Story and a GREAT Story

If there is one pattern I’ve seen in my journey as speaker coach it’s that speakers don’t realize how much better their stories could be. They settle on good enough, when just some tiny tweaks could take that story to a remarkable place. Today I want to prove it, by sharing you a story before we worked on it, and then after we worked on it.  This the difference in JUST ONE rewrite.  You decide.

Cats in a Van by Traci Brown  (The BEFORE version)

People have been known to call me an overachiever.  So they weren’t surprised when I had a mid life crisis at 27. Life was going all wrong.  I’d just broken up with my boyfriend, been fired from my job and barely had two nickels to rub together.    I needed paradise.  A place where there were no problems and I could just relax and figure out what’s next.

So I scraped up all the money I had, packed up and went to Hawaii.   I was gonna camp on the beach for 8 weeks.    I know some of you heard 8 days.  No. I said 8 weeks ( I already told you I’m an over achiever) .  And all of my problems would be solved.

While there I found out that beach camping isn’t all that glamorous. It’s not the paradise I wanted.  Between the sand that liked to fill up my tent and the swarming bees and geko lizards at the shower that made me run with soap in my hair- it just wasn’t working out.  Paradise was kicking my butt.

Then  I met Big John Davy.  He was the island’s teddy bear & philosopher.  Just as sweet and gentle as he could be.  He was originally from Seattle.   In his younger days he was a surfer but he took the island lifestyle a bit too much to heart.  Now At 400 lbs his surfboards sank so he took to just laying on the beach.   A lot.  You could find him there every day –after his orange juice deliveries to the resorts– from  3 till dark.

When he heard about my plight, he offered to loan me his van.  But this was not just any van.  It was a 1979 lime green volkswagon bus with a pop top,  all set up for the beach lifestyle.  So I jumped at the chance.

He said there were only a couple of rules:  first.  Put a quart of oil in it every time you fill it up.  And Second.  Don’t drive it into town because it didn’t have insurance, or a current license plate.  Oh, and watch the breaks.  It’ll roll backwards if you stop on an uphill.   Oh and one more thing…these things are prone to engine fires.  If that happens, don’t worry, I’ll come pick ya up.

Isn’t that how life works? You’re given a great opportunity to live, be free and find your bliss but there’s always the ‘and oh’s’ –  There’s just always challenges and nothing is ever quite perfect.

It all sounded good to me.   He gave me the keys and down the road I went, sure I’d have a new lease on paradise.

I learned It went 45 mph …downhill …if you had a tailwind.  There were always a line of cars behind me…if I could see them thru all the exhaust smoke.  But I was the envy of the campground, wherever I went.

I’d take it down remote jagged, lava roads, just barely missing rocks that would tear thru the oil pan,  and park on the beach each night, cooking dinner on my camp stove as the waves lapped up on shore.

I was finally finding some relaxation in paradise until one night when I went to one of the most remote beaches on the big Island.  After a nail biting drive down the lava road, I found a campsite just before dusk.  I got my head lamp, camp stove  and went about cooking dinner.  This night was a freeze dried camping meal of curry chicken. And I was all alone on the beach.

As I put it in the pot with water to boil, I realized I forgot my spoon to stir it with—it was in the van.  As usual I’d left the sliding van door open, but when I went back for the spoon I found my van filled with cats.  Ferrel cats.  These cats look like domesticated kittys but are diseased, mean and really don’t want anything to do with people.  And the van was filled with 30 of these wild animals.

They were everywhere—under the seats, in the camper top—and when I opened the glove box there was a kitten in it.  How did he get there?  After a few hisses and swipes from their claws, I shooed them out of the van with a big broom usually stashed in the back, got my spoon and went back to cooking my meal.  But When I looked in the pot, everything was gone!  The cats ate my dinner!

That’s when I looked around for the culprits.  As I stood and turned 360, all I could see by the light of my headlamp were hundreds of glowing eyes staring at me, I was surrounded and they were closing in.  I Never had a fear of cats. ..until now.

The curry chicken was only their appetizer.  I was the main course and I could feel myself quickly descending from the top of the food chain..  I knew it would end like this…..

As I slowly backed up towards the van, I reached in my pocket for the key.  But I was fumbling for it.  Instead I pulled out a good sized lint ball.  I dropped it but a breeze picked it up and sent it tumbling down the beach.  It was just light enough that the cats thought it was a mouse and the whole herd  went to chase it.  This was my god given exit.  I jumped in the van and managed to get up the jagged lava road with my life.  I slept in the wal-mart parking lot that night.  I’ve never loved wal-mart more.

The next day when I saw John and told him about the incident, he said—‘Oh yeah, they did that to me a while back.  So I just closed the van door on them and drove to the humane society with a delivery.

He said ‘I know you made this trip because you’ve just got cats in your van back home.  You gotta get that paradise is portable.  It will be wherever you are once you’ve herded your cats . ‘

Since that day whenever problems come up that make me long for paradise and the simplicity of van living, I think of the cats and what John said. And then I remember, Life is easy all you gotta do is herd your cats.  Otherwise,  it’s just another day in paradise-minus the paradise.

 

Cats In A Van (The AFTER version)

People have been known to call me an overachiever.  So they weren’t surprised when I had a mid life crisis at 27. Life was going all wrong.  I’d just broken up with my boyfriend, been fired from my job and barely had two nickels to rub together.    I needed paradise.  A place where there were there were no problems  and I could just find my zen and figure out what’s next.

So I scraped up all the money I had and bought a ticket to Hawaii.   I was gonna camp on the beach for 8 weeks. No, not  8 days.   I said 8 weeks ( I already told you I’m an over achiever) .

While there I found out that beach camping isn’t all that glamorous.  Between the sand that liked to fill up my tent and the swarming bees and geko lizards at the shower that made me run with soap in my hair- it just wasn’t working out.  Paradise was kicking my butt.

Then  I met Big John Davy.  Originally from Seattle,  he was the island’s teddy bear & philosopher.  Just as sweet and gentle as he could be.    In his younger days he was a firefighter and surfer but he took the island lifestyle a bit too much to heart.  Now At 400 lbs his surfboards sank so he took to just laying on the beach.   A lot.  You could find him there every day –after his orange juice deliveries to the resorts—sharing his philosophies — from  3 till dark.

He felt my pain and  offered to loan me his van.   It was a 1979 lime green Volkswagen bus with a pop top,  all set up for the beach lifestyle.  So I jumped at the chance.

He said there were only a couple of rules:  first.  Put a quart of oil in it every time you fill it up.  And Second.  Don’t drive it into town because it didn’t have insurance, or a current license plate.  Oh, and watch the breaks.  It’ll roll backwards if you stop on an uphill.   Oh and one more thing…these things are prone to engine fires.  If it bursts into flames, don’t worry, I’ll come pick ya up.

It all sounded good to me.   He gave me the keys, I rolled down the windows—well, technically they wouldn’t ever roll back up– and down the road I went, sure I’d have a new lease on paradise.

I learned It went 45 mph …downhill …if you had a tailwind.  There were always a line of cars behind me…I’d just give them the peace sign thru all the exhaust smoke.  But I was the envy of the campground, wherever I went.

I was liking this new Zen me.  Paradise was finally working and Life was going my way.    One night just before dusk,  I took  it down a  jagged, lava road, and parked on the beach to camp.  I got my curry chicken dinner  bubbling on the van stove and went to meditate on the beach while it cooked.   When I remembered I left the spoon in the pan, I ran back to the van.

That’s when I realized I was no longer the only camper.  I found my van filled with cats.  Ferrel cats.  These cats look like domesticated kittys but are diseased, mean and really don’t want anything to do with people.  And the van was filled with more than I could count. I’m thinking there were at least 40, maybe 50.  I’ll still never know how that kitten got in the glove box.

I’d never really had a fear of cats but I froze in horror staring into the sea of hissing and glowing eyes. I wanted to run but my feet wouldn’t move. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t get the words out.  My fear turned to anger when I realized the damn cats were eating my dinner!!

Then I realized  my curried chicken was just the appetizer.  I felt myself free falling down the food chain as they looked at me like I was the entrée. I pictured the story on the front page of the paper the next day. Unidentified unemployed single woman eaten alive by cats on the Beach.

I channeled my inner Braveheart and charged.  I shoo’d and swatted and kicked into the sea of hissing with glowing eyes staring back at me. I tried to herd them towards the door – but it was impossible – it was like, well, herding cats.

I reached in my pockets praying for a forgotten weapon, and all I could find was a ball of lint. Story of my life.  I dropped the lint ball which caught the ocean breeze and tumbled down the beach.  I watched as hundreds of cats stopped and turned to watch the lint ball. They thought it was a mouse and in one motion, they all leaped out the door after it and flashed down the beach.   It was my god given exit.

I jumped in the van and managed to get up the jagged lava road with my life.  I slept in the wal-mart parking lot that night.  I’ve never loved wal-mart more.

The next day when I saw John and told him about the incident, he gave me an orange juice and said—‘Oh yeah, they did that to me a while back.  So I just closed the van door and drove to the humane society with a delivery.

He said ‘You know, you’ve just got cats in your van back home.  Paradise is portable.  It will be wherever you are once you’ve figured out how to herd your cats.  And if you can’t herd them, it’s just another day in paradise, minus the paradise.’

With that I gave John the keys and went home to rewrite my own paradise.  And the first thing I did was buy a dog.

 

Does your story need some work?

Curious to see what could happen if we took at look at one of YOUR stories? Happy to help. Just send an email to kelly@kellyswanson.net and I’ll tell you how you can benefit from one-on-one coaching. And just imagine how it would feel to have your ENTIRE KEYNOTE worked on! That’s what keynote camp is for. Check it out: www.keynotecamp.com

Thank you, Traci Brown, for allowing us to see your before and after.

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Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, author, and comedian who teaches you how to harness the power of your story to connect, engage, and get results. In this blog, Kelly focuses on the business of professional speaking. Kelly’s post day is Friday. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

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