Blog,  Events,  Journalism,  Writing

How do you tell a story?

Where does one begin?

If you didn’t know by now, I am speaking at an event on Monday night in Melbourne.

I and four other journalists have five minutes each to tell a story about our journalism careers.

And I am a bit stuck.


I am assuming that I am stuck because of a few things:

  1. When I do think of funny anecdotes, they are not long enough to drag out for five minutes. At least I don’t think so at this point..
  2. Second, they seem commonplace enough things to happen to most journalists and since the audience will be made of people in the industry that seems an odd thing to discuss.
  3. But also there are a few stories where I feel, well, they are about other people and places and so have I got a right to tell the story in the first place?
  4. I also don’t want to talk about things and topics that I think people may want me to talk about? I don’t want to fall into a situation where I am discussing something they felt they could rely on me to discuss, that they could sort of wheel me out to discuss. If that makes any sense.

It’s now the weekend. I have two days to get a story together in the midst of everything else that needs to happen as well because Monday? Monday is busy. That’s all my Mondays this month. Like seriously people, what is it with the Mondays in February?

And I know this much:

  1. The story must start with a bang or a hook. Something interesting. I am not going first, I am first after the interval. I need to keep the crowd keen.
  2. I need to fit the story into the time and I need to pace it well and keep them keen and I need to have jokes because much as I may want to rant or lecture people, I can’t do that all the way throughout.
  3. I need to end with a kicker, be it a joke or otherwise that knocks them out of the park.

Structuring this piece isn’t a problem. The problem will be figuring out what I want to say and ensuring I have enough time to write it all down before the event and enough time to run through it a few times so I am not just reading from notes.

Because I also need to look up, engage, stare into the souls of the audience so they cannot run away, all those things. I need to move, move my hands, gesture, make expressions, but not move away from the mic because I am soft spoken and that would be of no use to mankind.

This is also performance. And I don’t know if you know this but I used to dance. I am no good at auditions but if you give me a stage, that stage is mine.

And so even if the others have been in front of a camera or an audience before, so have I and I have moved. I’d like to think that that is a little secret weapon.

I suppose I should point out here that this event isn’t a competition, not at all. But I do intend to kill it on stage otherwise it just would not be my best effort? What the others do doesn’t matter.

But I want to get up there and say something that is memorable. So people walking away think about it.

Who the hell knows if it will be. But I hope it is.


Which is why I, someone who writes, is asking a basic question like: how do you tell a story?

Maybe the question should be: what story should I tell?

Should I talk about press freedom and Lasantha and Sudan? Or about how contemplating my journalism career makes me sad much as I love journalism?

Should I talk about how racist editors have pegged me as a good confidante to tell me their racists views on who they should hire and why? Should I talk about the disappointment on friends’ faces when they tell me about a job and assume that if they didn’t see my name, it’s because I didn’t apply when weeks later I have to inform that I did and HR over east probably discounted me thanks to my name?

Should I talk about how one editor hired a recent grad, stuck them out in the country alone without support and then bitched about them in public struggling to do a job that needed more experience, to a room full of journalists who were more experienced and had applied for the job and had been passed over by said editor?

Or how my colleagues in Sri Lanka straight away gave me a job reporting on an national election campaign and I broke stories including one that prompted an investigation but came back to Australia to find that no one thought that was good enough? Because I was brown? With a brown name? And so it was easy to dismiss the paper and the experience and the country as not somehow being up to standard?

Or how those colleagues when I go back see my eyes and nod and say “It’s hard, no?” knowing that there are reasons I based my life here.

Or how I would be a great person to send to a war zone because I grew up in a civil war and that’s my normal, I can tell by ear whether it’s tire backfiring or a gun and I am a walking deathwish with no regard for personal safety and I understand that there is no good guy or bad guy in war. And that the time to send me is running out before friends and family try to find more ways to plant me in some soil somewhere and it will be too hard to uproot myself. Don’t waste the years I have got and the 25 years I spent knowing that people died the day I was born and I shimmy in and out of existence because why not live a larger life so that those who should have been here, there is something for them, in all their names that I won’t know?

Or how I volunteer and then because I do, people overstep and think it is ok to ask me to do things for free, to be the token diverse person to trot out rather than actually resolving a representation issue, how a five minute call to tell me something as an union delegate turns into two hours that leaves me drained?

Or how it feels to sit around a table and voice ideas and feel like those across from you with the actual regular paycheck and more resources are barely not showing up, not saying anything and certainly not going home and thinking up solutions and taking calls that morph from minutes to hours?

Or how it feels to have someone bitch about you getting involved in a dispute when you were going to step in and mediate and take on their obligations for them knowing that they were dealing with things? And to have it get back to you on the grapevine? Or how it feels to have someone well known call you, not to say hi but to tell you to be careful and to not help someone?

Or should I talk about funnier things? Like democratic socialist republic cups of tea at voting booths in Sri Lanka? Or how everyone was so tired of the election campaign I walked into a venue without going through security and no one realised and security was remarkably not that fussed either?


Any clue? Me neither.

And I can’t talk about everything I know that. I don’t have the luxury of time to do that. And yes there is a sense of I may never get to do this again and so I should make the most of it, say something useful and meaningful. God forbid, not inspiring.

If you have ideas, drop them in the comments below. I have no clue.

If you want to see the show:

6 – 9 pm, Metropolitan Hotel, Melbourne on Monday 11 Feb.
Tickets: $10 -$15


Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is usually based in Melbourne but is currently flouncing around in Perth for a week for the Inaugural 2018 KSP - Varuna Foundation Fellowship. She will be at Melbourne's Continuum and online running a Writers' Bloc course in the coming weeks.

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