You know it’s a story when …

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We’ve all had those moments, although we’re too polite to mention them. You’re listening to a colleague talking about his recent trip to Istanbul. It should be riveting. For years, you’ve wanted to go to Istanbul and here’s a chance for the inside scoop. But you’re having trouble paying attention. He keeps telling you the names of streets and the exact time of day when each event happened. Worse, he keeps correcting himself on those minor details. Plus, you’re never sure why the moment was important to him.

A few days later, a different colleague tells you about having breakfast with his son. It’s a simple story. His son didn’t feel like eating, but he joked him into cooperating. Your colleague describes the expression on his son’s face. He imitates his son’s voice. You enjoy the telling of the story and you even think about the story afterwards. Hey, maybe you’ll try using humour the next time your grandson doesn’t feel like eating.

So why was the second story better than the first? Why did you care about eating breakfast and not about a trip to Istanbul? When something exciting happens in our lives, we want to share it. To us, every detail is delicious. But to those listening, they’re looking for a good story.

Good stories only include the most vivid sensory details, like the scent of coffee in Istanbul or the sound of an oud. Unless details like the time of day are essential, a good story leaves them out. Most of all, the stories we love involve a challenge or a conflict, such as getting lost or having trouble communicating in a different language. We all enjoy hearing about how others have struggled and overcome a challenge. And just like the story about getting a boy to eat his breakfast, the challenge doesn’t have to be huge. It only has to be human.