Published Nov 20, 2006

I like stories. I like books, I like TV shows, I like one-man shows, I like long conversations in which people reveal their own personal histories. I even like people who tell short stories to illustrate their point. But, if your story takes more than about ten minutes, welcome to my shit list.

It’s not that all stories are a bad way to communicate; rather short stories are a very effective tool with which a point can be illustrated. The best kind of short story is short in length and short on characters and plotlines as well; you’re trying to illustrate something simple and concrete, and that goal doesn’t lend itself well to intricate, overlapping storylines and complex personas displaying varied and sometimes conflicting motivations. It’s also not a good time to go rambling, because, hey, you’re trying to illustrate a point, and that involves staying on point.

That’s one of the biggest problems with the long story, really — there are so many things going on in a long story that your point is likely to get lost in all of the other possible morals of that story. Also, it’s really hard to tell a long story well; we’re not all Homer that we can sit down and craft some long, elaborate story that holds together over a protracted telling1. Frankly, most of us ramble when we tell a long story, and that’s actually the worst possible thing you can do for your goal, because all you’ll do is:

  • Confuse me, or
  • Bore me, causing me to maliciously ignore whatever point you’re trying to make, or
  • Get so off-course that you actually communicate something other than what you intended to communicate, causing me to adopt some position contrary (or unrelated) to what you intended I take away from the conversation.

(If you are a skilled plotter, and the type who can keep it together, then you can try the long story, but still: be wary of boring me!)

And remember: you have an alternative to telling the story. You could just, you know, say what you mean. Your story had better be superior to the simple option of stating your point, otherwise, you’re just wasting time you could be using to communicate additional points, or hear my reactions to your points.

So, if you’re trying to communicate with me via story, tell a quick, clear, unambiguous story, or just tell me what you mean. I’m a pretty thick-skinned guy and can take it straight out. But don’t tell the long, rambling story, because then you’ll lose me, you’ll piss me off, and you’ll end up on my shit list. Welcome to my shit list, long, disjointed, unfocused storytellers. You’ll never get off.

1 Yes, I know Homer may not have composed the complete Iliad or Odyssey, and that, whatever he wrote, he probably evolved it over time, but you see my point, eh?