The story is the important part. The audience determines the words. I write nonfiction. The stories are true; you may not believe it, but they are. I lived them. They happened either to me or around me. I just tell them the way they originally happened.
My best guess is that the current trend of the fictionalization of nonfiction is my enemy. When I started to relate these stories to others, my audience was made up of people for the most part very similar to me. With the exception of a hand full of wives that might be temporarily in the immediate area, those that were listening were my contemporaries in the Army.
There was no need to elaborate about the Cold—85 degrees below zero was 85 degrees below zero—they had all been there also. They knew and understood. I just had to say -85⁰F and keep moving along. When I said I was responsible, I didn’t have to go into any more detail, they understood and knew exactly why and how.
After departing the Army, I found that I was part of a very small minority—5 to 10% of those I associated with had any idea, concept, or understanding of the circumstances encountered in the stories I might tell. Nobody had even the slightest concept of -85⁰F. If I said -112⁰F, it struck no chord in their brain at all. Their Cold existed at another level that compared not one iota in relation to the Cold I spoke of. Very few had even the slightest concept of a GI and the depth of situations that one could get into. They had no idea of the hardships, troubles and responsibilities of conducting their daily business one day in a brick and mortar facility and the next a thousand or more miles away under canvas in an environment 180 degrees opposite of yesterday’s and completely hostile to all they held dear to themselves.
To enable the use of my stories as teaching and learning points, I had to find ways to enable their understanding. One of my first light bulbs was the revelation that everybody had played army as a child and they truly enjoyed hearing the stories as they were told—just as they were with zero explanation or altering. My task was to make the story relevant to their situation—that association made it real to my staff and co-workers. Once it became relevant to them, each anecdote began to work as I intended them to—experiential learning and problem solving solutions that they could learn from and use to better their conditions in life.
The best feeling came to me when I might come upon a direct report doing something that resembled a solution we had discovered through our discussions of a particular anecdote and that guy or gal would, right out of the blue, say “Howard’s Law #3” and just keep on working—it would warm my heart and made it all worthwhile.
From the standpoint of Leadership and Management anecdotes, I haven’t written a new story in the last ten years. Everyone I put to paper has been locked away in memory since the day they took place and are just as fresh in my mind when I begin to recall the facts and circumstances as they were the first time I experienced or told them (or kept to myself depending on the circumstances or need) as they were the day (or night) they originally occurred. Oh, I have written new stories but not about Leadership and Management—they’ve been about my grandchildren, my travels, memories of my youth or just streams of consciousness or thoughts on the everyday happenings occurring around us all.
Besides the foregoing, I have come across, maybe, more than my share of interesting and crazy people that have shaped my present and my future. My wife and kids, in addition to the community I now associate with, have never heard or experienced any of that of which I write. I choose to get down as many as possible before I can no longer remember the facts, the situation and the circumstances that arose in the creation of the accounts I have to share.
So, instead of applying all those fictionalization traits to my stories, I will continue to write them just as I have always told them and let the chips fall where they may.