What makes a good story

Our brains love stories, and luckily, the Internet is full of them. Hardly a day goes by that one of my friends doesn’t post something heartwarming and awe-inspiring from Upworthy or some other positive news site.

Some of these stories are so good they’re intimidating. For instance check out this story about 20/20/20 and how they are giving blind children eyesight with a simple operation. Wow.

When your news feed is packed with stories about blind children seeing and dogs saving babies, it may feel like you really don’t have anything dramatic enough to offer readers.

A story doesn’t have to be intense to get us interested. No doubt, there are stories lurking around your business or nonprofit that would be memorable and engaging, even if they’re not earth-shattering. Drama is not the only thing that makes a good story.

When choosing stories to share, in the absence of drama, look for:

Strong Characters

Readers want to care about someone specific. A video about anonymous blind children wouldn’t have the impact that learning the story of Anita and Sonya and their parents does. We care about what happens to them. Choose a specific person to build the story around.

Cause and Effect

In this story from Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly, a volunteer makes a difference for an isolated elderly woman. He gives her a ride to visit her sister. This highlights the nonprofit’s transportation program, by showing us its effectan elderly woman is overjoyed, feels connected to her family and valued by her friends. The relationship between the program and its results is clear.

Another way to think about cause and effect is to ask yourself What changed? In this story from Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, we learn how the organization and a scholarship they offered helped a young mother go to college. It highlights how different her life is because of these programs. It may not be a change from blindness to sight, but it’s a significant change nonetheless.

Emotional Impact

Your story should have emotional impact on the reader. Go beyond happy and sad look for stories that make your audience feel excited about what you’re doing, encouraged by the work you’ve done, or intrigued by a clever way you solved a problem. Humor, righteous indignation, and relief are all powerful emotional experiences, too.

Once you’re looking for these elements, instead of a story to stop the presses, you’ll find that good, useful stories are everywhere.

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