Pilot episode: Characters

Everyone has a story. And when you meet someone new, the person’s story is unwritten. They are a mystery. But that doesn’t mean you should write his story to fill in the blanks. If you design Mr. Fantastic, but he’s a Mr. Fail, remember, his depiction is at your peril. No one can live up to the story you create for them. That is unless they believe your characterization is accurate for them too.

Here’s my cautionary tale.

From the podcast “CharActors.”

So, now that you’ve heard my story do you think it’s an isolated scenario? One that would only apply in intimate situations? Think again. Consider a time when you decided to apply for a new job or ask for a pay raise. How about meeting someone new outside your alleged social class?

How do you approach the goal?

Would you decide you wouldn’t qualify based on the job requirements and responsibilities? Or do you determine the hiring manager wouldn’t want you for the job?

Do you decide not to ask because you believe you don’t deserve a salary increase? Or do you think your supervisor won’t grant it?

How about meeting that high-profile CEO? Do you decide against requesting a meeting because you need time to prepare? Or do you think she would never meet with you, a mid-manager at a satellite office?

In each case, the latter decision is based on you writing a story for another person. Preparing an answer based on a story you’ve made up puts you 100% in control of everything that happens in your life.

There is nothing left to chance because you’ve already decided the outcome before it started. Is that the life you want to live? Or are you ready to move outside of your head?

Once I realized I’d been treating the people in my life as characters in an unpublished novel, I stopped. Well, at least I’m conscious of my actions.

I also stopped writing my crush’s story, thinking he was interested in hearing about my details. Then, I finally “saw” who he was as a man.

If you’re interested in seeing how your life would unfold if you stopped writing lines for others – work to control your thoughts. And allow others to write their part of the story.

Let them show you who they are instead of making up a story on how you wish them to be. When a person reveals, you might be surprised, maybe even disappointed. But at least you won’t deceive yourself and, they won’t fool you.

Transcript

CharACTORS’ Podcast

Do you know what I was thinking?  No one can live up to the story that you build (for them) in your mind.  There’s no way! Well, that’s not exactly true. There is a way – they can remain silent.  I remember I was — I had a crush on this guy and he,  he had a crush on this woman,  But the funny thing about it was, she never said anything. He never knew who she was because she never gave him a hint as to who she was. So, all the things he believed about her were true. Me, on the other hand, I told him everything thing about me.  Every single thing I could think of I shared – no thought was unexpressed. Needless to say, there was no mystery.  I don’t believe in mystery. I don’t believe in letting people think what they want about me without me validating it. Hence, that could be the troubles That I have in my life when it comes to dating. But people want to believe what they want to believe, and you can’t help that. So, when they get into a relationship and find out the person isn’t what they thought they were – who’s to blame? That person or the person who wanted to believe what they wanted to believe?

Long on Words, Short on Time? Summon Your Inner Editor

Renowned feminist and social activist Bell Hooks once wrote:

No black woman writer in this culture can write “too much.” Indeed, no woman writer can write ‘too much’…No woman has ever written enough.” – remembered rapture, the writer at work,

BELL HOOKS

When I saw that quote, it resonated with me on two fronts. Initially, I thought, “Tell it, Sister!  Our story needs to be told everywhere!”  Fist in the air emoji!  And then came the trigger. I’ve faced deadlines, knowing there were too many words on the screen with no conclusion in sight. The Six o’clock news anchor – with eyes on me waiting for my story to load into the teleprompter.

Meanwhile, my fingers poised over the keyboard, still wrestling with the germ of an idea for the story. Eventually, the story would manifest itself.  I would hit “Enter,” and we’d have another successful newscast.

This scenario appears to have a miraculous ending. Except, I left out the mental gymnastics I’d perform to transform the gathered information into a story. And how it allowed me to beat every deadline I’d faced during my five years in broadcast news.

In short, I had success because I’d “hear” phantom questions my news directors had asked, in the past, about my story elements.


  1. Consider the Audience (Receiver)
  2. Think about the message you want to send. (Subject/Theme)
  3. Consider the platform/publication (Perspective)
  4. Who is the protagonist(s)
  5. Conflict (What’s the problem?)
  6. Solution (How will they solve it.)
  7. Implement (Solution into practice)

I worked for three news directors during my time in radio and TV news.  All had great news instinct. They intuitively knew what trend would become newsworthy.  But only one of them taught me the truth about preparing stories for the broadcast news audience.

Today, every platform caters to a broadcast news audience. Every platform has the potential to stream live or taped like cable, television, or radio. Therefore, when considering your audience, the goal is to understand what they want.

When you get instant audience feedback, it’s easy to figure out what resonates with them.  If not, then we have tools to analyze audience viewing habits in real-time. So, from a blog post to a live news broadcast, you can tell what captures your audience’s attention.

I’m not sure how my former news director arrived at his observation, but he was correct when he said,

“the news audience wants a sexy and STEAMY broadcast.”

News Director

Sexy, i.e., provocative, speaks for itself. But here, the acronym STEAMY means
Share-WORTHY, Timely, Evocative, Alluring, Memorable, Youthful.

As a content producer, the goal is to write to a conclusion and have it make sense.  Producing content using the Sexy and STEAMY guidelines helps to put into focus the information you’ve gathered.

So, imagine, as a cub reporter, my first news assignment, was presenting a story that was far from sexy and STEAMY as could be.  It was a Sunday, and I had to cover a Catholic church closing somewhere in the Ohio Valley.

The conflict presented itself immediately. The parishioners were distraught at the thought of losing their church home.  The Roman Catholic diocese cited budgetary concerns for closing the neighborhood parish. It was a done deal. There was no compromise.

As a reporter, I knew I wasn’t supposed to choose any side. I could, however, pick a protagonist.  In news media, the protagonist isn’t good or bad. They are the major player in the story.  Initially, I thought the diocese was the protagonist. But once I gathered the information, I found the story was about the people. The parishioners decided after their final Mass at the closing parish, they would move on. Their solution to the closing was to not look back. 

So, the assignment started out as a jumbled heap of information filled with emotional upheaval and budgetary concerns. But it became a story of families on their journey to a new parish.

The platform, broadcast television, lent itself to evocative storytelling.  As I shared a message of the parish history and its community milestones, the parishioners shared photos, memorabilia on video. I then tagged (wrapped up) the story by revealing how the parishioners would implement the solution. Since their story was playing out on television, it ended with a video montage of the old parish.  And their beginnings, with a pilgrimage to the new parish.

So, there you have it.  If too many words on a page with no end in sight frightened you as it did me, consider summoning your inner editor. Then you can go forth and write too much. Just as Bell Hooks advised in The Writer at Work.