Thursday, March 28, 2013

Conflict, story and trips that matter

by Steve Brock on March 28, 2013

As we saw last time, one of the five P’s of good storytelling is Problem or conflict. No conflict, no tension. No tension, no interest.

Travel and adventureEver tell of an experience on a trip that was fascinating to you, but you can see your audience looking at their watches long before you’re done even describing the ride from your house to the airport? For many of us, our trip stories don’t translate well because the conflict or problem isn’t clear…or isn’t there.

The “challenge” may be as benign as finding something interesting to see in a new city or discovering a decent restaurant there. That may have been a real quest for you at the time, but the story usually comes out something like, “We were hungry so we looked for this place some other travelers had told us about. We couldn’t find the street initially (oooh, real suspense!), but eventually we did and it was the most amazing meal of our trip.” How very nice.

Another reason our stories don’t work for others isn’t just because we don’t translate the challenge or conflict into a narrative they can appreciate. It’s because there is no challenge or conflict. Most of us, myself included, go to great lengths to ensure a hassle-free trip. We count it a success when we make all our connections, when no one gets sick, when nothing is stolen or lost, when the water is drinkable and the roads passable, when the wifi works well and our bargaining at the market works even better and when the whole journey goes as planned. Woo hoo for us!

But pretty boring for anyone hearing our tale.

I like the smooth trip and believe there will always be a place for those kinds of journeys. They just don’t make for great stories. I recall an interview with travel writer Paul Theroux who is famous for traveling light and alone to difficult places. Asked if he ever travels with his wife, he replied that he does and that they had been on a safari together not long before the interview. Theroux went on to explain that it was a wonderful trip… but there was simply nothing to write about.

Where there is no conflict, there is likely, no story.

Every time I find myself gravitating toward the easy trip, I do one of two things. Usually, I heed its Siren’s call and rationalize that this time, I deserve a break. A nice, comfortable trip will do just fine. Vacation is hard-earned, so why add more stress, right?

But then, I remember.

I think about the stories – the good ones – and the trips they represent. The ones that mattered, to others and to me. The ones where a slight shift in outcomes would have meant I wouldn’t be here to write this. The ones that scared the you-know- what out of me at the time but proved transformative. The ones that cost me something…and in turn gave me more than I can ever describe.

Sometimes the only thing that shakes me out of my need for the comfortable trip is to recall the power of the uncomfortable ones. And when I do, conflict, challenges and adventure aren’t things I seek to avoid. They become part of my destination.

And maybe yours as well.

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