So many stories, how to choose?

A good story has to be extremely particular and peculiar to your life. It has to have an element of singularity and yet – and this is the alchemy and paradox of storytelling – it has to be something immediately universal, part of something that we all experience. A great story is never just about you or something that happened to you, no matter how seemingly interesting the characters or events may be. A great story, no matter the subject, is always really about them (the audience) with a universal appeal. The theme must get at something truly human. A cautionary tale of greed and excess or an inspiring narrative of resilience and persistence. The plot of your story — the events and the order in which you arranged them — are important but only to the degree that they illuminate your message or theme and illustrate clearly the arc of change.
— Adam Gopnik, New Yorker writer and essayist.
Photo credit: Brandon Morgan on Unsplashed.

Photo credit: Brandon Morgan on Unsplashed.

Look for conflict.

Which story has the most struggle?

No struggle, no story. No obstacles to reach your goal? Who wants to hear about that? Where is the lesson in that?

Story listeners search for meaning not through successes and achievements, but through conflict and struggle. Conflict is energy. It is tension. Conflict is the engine that drives excitement in a story. Listeners invest in your story when it deals with the universal human struggle and suffering that they also have to deal with. Shared struggles form common ground and connect you to your audience.

If there are no obstacles to reach your goal, it is a boring and banal tale. Instead, you want to display the struggle between subjective expectation and cruel reality in all its nastiness. So with this in mind...


Which story from your list has the most conflict, where you had the most to lose, the most to gain, the highest stakes, the deepest pain, the most wisdom born?

Still can't decide which story to tell?

Your story should:

  • Be Particular to your life.
  • Be Peculiar.
  • Have a universal theme.
  • Expose a vulnerability or a weakness.
  • Illustrate a transformation.
  • Be naturally told with energy, engagement, and presence.