Many years ago I wrote a story about meatloaf for two reasons. The first reason is because I was trying to win a free Kindle (I’ve never bought one to this day). The second reason is because I’d recently had an adventure that involved meatloaf, it was fresh in my mind and I decided to go for it; timing is everything. 🙂
me giving a seminar;
phones didn’t take great pictures back then
Unfortunately I didn’t win; I don’t think I even placed. I did get one critique on the story, though. The guy said he liked the story and laughed at it, but that I used the word “I” too many times and that if I’d tightened that up then the story might have been stronger.
Let’s talk about storytelling for a moment, if I may. Going back even further, I wrote a series on book writing, and one of those lessons was about the art of telling a story. People love stories (heck, I love stories!), and the better you can tell your story, the more people love to hear it. My dad loved telling stories, and I think I got that from him.
If you’re telling a story in general, it’s often recommended that you try not to use one or two words over and over. For instance, if you’re writing fiction and your story’s main character is Henry, you shouldn’t always be writing “Henry said” or “Henry thought” or something like that all the time. The idea is to weave Henry’s name in there every once in a while to make sure everyone knows when it’s Henry or someone else, but otherwise try to make your story flow better by not stopping on every sentence by saying “Henry”.
That explains writing fictional stories; what if you’re telling your own tale? Suddenly the rules change, at least in my mind. It’s would sound silly if you were trying to convey your thoughts and you said “there was this thought that” or “Johnny wondered” if your name was Johnny.
If you’re telling your story, one would expect you to use “I” most of the time if you’re in it. For instance, I was the main protagonist in writing my story on The Keys. How else would I have told that story without the word “I”? If it was fictionalized maybe one finds a different way, but if I, or you, are telling our own story, how ridiculous would it be without “I”?
There is an art to storytelling, though. Beginning, middle, end; that’s the script, just like the script for most songs follows a 1-4-1-4-5-4-1 chord progression (that’s going to keep you thinking for a while lol). We want to be introduced to our hero, so to speak, early on, and then we want to see what happens to that character, and then we want to see how it’s resolved.
Stories can be short or long; in essence, they are what they are. Stories need to follow a progression; not everyone likes stories that suddenly go back in history, or take sidebars that don’t seem to have anything to do with the story (although the movie Pulp Fiction did that; I hated it the first time I saw it, but figured it out when I saw it again 10 years later).
We want the stories we’re going to consume direct, in order, fleshed out as much as needed, and then concluded in a way that makes us feel something; happy, upset, or even laughing. If it’s your story, we want to know how you felt, what you thought, and if you have to use “I” often, then so be it.
Of course, I could be wrong on this, but I doubt it. As I was reading Traci Lords book Underneath It All (don’t judge me lol), I was struck by this thought; how could she have told her story otherwise without the frequent use of the word “I”? She couldn’t; that’s the point. If you need to use it, use it as long as it’s about you.
If it’s not about you, or you’re telling a story about someone or something else, then there shouldn’t be an issue with that word, but you need to be careful in looking at the words you do use to see if maybe there’s another choice every once in a while. By the way, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a written or verbal story; the same rules apply.