“Mama! Why are you crying about that letter from Tatu?” My perceptive first-grader recognizes my grandfather’s handwriting. Sending clippings from the Wall Street Journal, prayers and pictures of saints, and packets of stamps for my husband’s inherited collection, Grandpa is our most faithful correspondent. Today, it’s a half-page ad from the New York Times. Grandpa would like to buy me an audio course on storytelling, if I’m interested. Even as I tell the story now, the tears well up again.
Marketers and people who help you build online visibility like to expose your pain by asking “what do you do when the only person who reads your blog is your mom?” It’s rather a rude question and, since my mother died in ‘09, I especially loath that line. Perhaps now I’ll merrily substitute “your grandfather” and forgive the speaker for being so glib.
You’ll hear different perspectives on “what makes a good story.” Conflict and tension are two of the more common answers. To me, one thing makes a story compelling and meaningful: transformation.
A good story is one that changes the reader in some small way.
A story about how nice it is to get gifts from my grandpa isn’t exactly wrought with tension. Admittedly, I wondered if it were fair to ask him to spend his money on one more piece of content I barely have the time to consume. But that evaporated quickly. If you’re a 37 year-old woman with a letter-writing, blog-reading grandfather who thinks of your business and your passion while he peruses his daily paper, you say “yes, please.” You then compose a very nice thank you note complete with pictures drawn by the great grand daughters and you gratefully make the time to listen and learn.
Instead, let’s focus on transformation.
The story of any family is one of constant change. The endless rising and ebbing of generations. The perpetual fluidity of roles that only children get to ignore.
Now, when we’re navigating a crazy supermarket parking lot during a Saturday visit, I’m watching for Grandpa’s footing as much as I’m making sure the kids don’t dart into traffic. We have all been transformed, but then, that’s where all the meaningful stories come from.