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The five P’s of a good story

by Steve Brock on March 22, 2013

Old fashioned storiesLast time we defined a story as being about a person overcoming an obstacle to achieve a goal. That’s the simple definition. But let’s unpack it a bit more so that you can learn to tell better stories of your trips…and of your life.

Good stories – the kind that capture our attention and grip our hearts – tend to share some common elements. I call them the five P’s. You can call them anything you want, but here’s the list:

1. Person(s) – AKA characters, every good story has to have players, both good (protagonists) and usually, bad (antagonists). They don’t have to be people – animals, robots, even nature can all fill the role – but someone or something needs to take action or it gets pretty boring pretty fast.

2. Plot – Stream of conscious ramblings may be entertaining for a while, but without an interesting sequence of events, your story tends to go nowhere. With travel writing, one of the most common problems is that the writer thinks the plot has to follow the same sequence in which the trip unfurled. But good stories aren’t constrained by linear time. They do, however, need some kind of plot.

3. Point – Good stories all have a theme or moral to them. Maybe it isn’t obvious, even to the writer. But we want our stories to mean something.

4. Purpose – What’s the goal the protagonist is trying to achieve? Without an objective, however minor it may seem at first, a story tends to go flat.

5. Problem – Remember, a story is about someone overcoming something to achieve a goal. That thing they are overcoming, that’s the problem.

In working with clients or in telling my own stories, especially travel stories, the last element is the one that gets left out the most. Most of us don’t like problems or conflict so it doesn’t make it into of our stories. And that makes for some very boring stories.

Conflict is your friend. Embrace conflict because without it, both your stories and your life will tend to wither.

Next time, we’ll explore this issue of conflict more and see how it applies to our trips. But for now, think through the above five elements of a story. Think of a recent experience you had. How could you tell it as a story? Does it have a player? A message (point)? Is there a goal the protagonist is trying to achieve? How about a plot: does the sequence of events tell the story in the most compelling way? And finally, is there conflict or a problem to overcome?

Learn to incorporate these simple elements and I guarantee you your stories will get better, at home or on a trip.

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When your trip goes awry – Part 3

by Steve Brock on January 16, 2013

To recap part 1 and part 2, I’m at an airport in the Midwest.

My first flight on Delta out of here was cancelled due to mechanical issues. My so-called rebooked flight on American didn’t happen since they said the reservation wasn’t confirmed. I’m having uncomfortable flashes of the Tom Hanks movie, “The Terminal…”

Back to the real-time account:

I jot down some questions in my journal: What is God trying to teach me? Is this a lesson in surrender and trust? But even amidst the concerns, I sense that He goes with me, knows how I feel and most importantly cares about this whole fiasco. I’m not alone in this.

I decide to walk back to the Delta gate, another attempt to do something even if I’m not sure what I’ll say once I get there. I’m telling myself to be grateful even if that’s not how I’m feeling.

And then I look up and see this sign:

Airport Sign
I stop and take a photo (not a very good one due to the glare). I know it’s not an accident I’m seeing this. I smile about the old adage regarding the guy who complained he had no shoes until he met the man who had no feet. I’m whining about a cold and a few extra hours in an airport. And here’s a photo of a little boy who has lost his leg to cancer.

Just as the impact of that starts to hit me, the phone rings. My travel person has booked me on a United flight. United? That’s not part of Delta’s network. She doesn’t care. She will make it work with Delta. Despite her normally sweet disposition, you don’t mess with my travel person, especially when she feels an injustice has been done.

I can only tell her for the I-don’t-know-how-manyeth time today, “Thank you.”

I head to the United gate and camp out there. Eventually, two gate agents arrive carrying on an animated conversation. I rush over. One barely glances my way but I take that as a signal to launch into my tale of woe. Neither care nor really seem to be listening, although the closest one taps on the computer even as she continues her conversation.

Somewhere between:

“Well, I don’t think he should have been allowed to change shifts like that!”

and

“There’ve been issues with him before. I remember when…”

the tapper reaches down, without seeming to take her eyes off her colleague, grabs a boarding pass from the printer below the counter and hands it to me. She does this all without missing a beat in her conversation. I will never be genetically capable of multi-tasking like that.

My thank you goes unheeded but no worries: I have a boarding pass! My sudden endearment for this stiff piece of paper makes me understand why people kiss the tarmac when they land after a grueling escapade abroad.

As I wait for my third flight out of this airport today, I still feel a bit like crying. Not out of frustration or disappointment this time, however, but out of gratitude. But that emotion is fading quickly.

In an almost sinister way, I feel the hard traveler’s edge returning. I’m starting to move beyond crisis back into routine. Even now, less than an hour after first being told I wasn’t on the American flight, I’m wondering why I was so worked up about it.

I’m glad I’m calmer. But I’m not so sure this tendency to shut down and return to a business-like approach to travel is such a good thing. I don’t like feeling raw, but neither do I like not feeling anything.

I would ponder this day more but I’m neither capable of making sense of it yet nor do I have the time. For even as I consider running and grabbing some lunch, I look over and my two talkative gate agents are now in full on boarding mode.

I have rarely wanted to board a plane as much as I do this one.

And now I am.

Finally.

I find my seat and give thanks that this seems like I’m actually going to get out of here.

Or so I think.

To be continued…

If you haven’t yet done so, check out Part 1 and Part 2

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When your trip goes awry – Part 2

by Steve Brock on January 10, 2013

Departing Flight

You never want to see your departing flight from outside the aircraft...

Here I am, waiting for my new flight after my original flight to Orlando via Atlanta was cancelled.

So what’s going through my mind as I wait for a second time?

  • An irrational need to try and find an outlet and make sure my laptop, phone and tablet are all charged. This day has offered up too many surprises already. I need to be prepared for anything, or so I think.
  • A hyper-focus on how I’m feeling. Sure, I’ve felt better and not being able to talk isn’t fun, but why do I keep thinking I’m going to feel worse than I do because of a longer trip?
  • A question: Why did the Southwest Airlines plane I see out the window just do a loopty loop on the tarmac? It made a full 360 degree turn and now it is stopped 150 yards from the terminal, waiting much more patiently than I am.
  • Stress about what seats I’ll have on these new flights.
  • Control. Why such an obsession with control?

The latter two points cause me to head to the gate for my new flight and hang around for the non-existent representative so I can nail down my seat and get my boarding pass. After 15 minutes here pondering the above thoughts with no gate agent in sight, I get an email from my travel person.

She’s booked me the exit row and I’m all set to go. Yay! Since I still have an hour until departure, I decide to hunt down an electrical outlet (see the first point above). I finally find one several gates down from mine where I am now typing all this.

I look at my watch. Time to head to the gate for boarding. I get to the gate and wait and wait in front of the desk in a line that has formed in the few minutes I’ve been away. I finally talk to the representative, but by now the plane is halfway boarded. I tell her I need my boarding pass because I was rebooked on this flight.

She looks on the computer then tells me I’m not on this flight.

She says has no confirmation and informs me the flight is full. “All fifty seats are taken,” she adds for emphasis as if “full” wasn’t clear enough.

I’m stunned but explain the first flight’s cancellation and how they rebooked me just an hour ago. She finds the reservation but repeats more firmly this time that it wasn’t confirmed (her emphasis) and there are no seats available on the flight. She’s not only dismissive, she’s borderline rude. She informs me it is all Delta’s fault and I need to go back to Delta.

I mumble a less-than-genuine “thank you” as I walk away, a bit incensed. I call my travel person who reminds me that she has emailed me the confirmation and even reserved the seats so how could I not be confirmed in the system? She’s no happier with American at this point than I am.

I go back to the counter and show the rep my email confirmation, all to no avail. She tells me again that Delta should have called her at the desk earlier to confirm. I refrain from noting that no one was at the desk earlier nor do I point out that airlines use these things called computers for a reason.

Instead, I just look at her like a lost puppy, both of us knowing there’s nothing she can do at this point as another American employee closes the boarding door behind her.

She lets slip a perfunctory “I’m sorry.” Maybe she means it, but I’ve already moved away from the counter, thanking her but not sure what for.

I want to cry.

I know that sounds pathetic, but with this cold and being tired from a long week so far of travel and meetings, that’s how I feel. I call my travel person who is graciousness personified. Again, I’m back to waiting for someone else to solve my problems, all eventualities out of my control.

I will soon discover just how out of control they are.

To be continued…

If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out Part 1

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When your trip goes awry – Part 1

by Steve Brock January 4, 2013

The first of a series on how we can’t recreate what we felt on a trip and what happens when everything seems to go wrong while traveling

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Another chance to remember

by Steve Brock August 3, 2012

Stop. Right now. What aren’t you grateful for that you should be? Take a minute. Remember moss and other things that aren’t all that visible right now. You don’t have to wait for that next trip. Give thanks. Right now.

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The allure of secrets: Train Wreck – Part 2

by Steve Brock August 1, 2012

Finally making it to Train Wreck outside Whistler, BC revealed more than crashed train cars: we discovered something very unexpected…

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The allure of secrets: Train Wreck – Part 1

by Steve Brock July 26, 2012

Another “secret” location in Whistler, BC beckons. But with this one, Train Wreck, we find that the journey to get there is as surprising and interesting as the destination…or so we think at the time.

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