The statement in this title may be a stretch, but a well-informed one. In item #7 on 10 Surprising Facts About How Our Brains Work, Belle Beth Cooper reports that “We tend to like people who make mistakes more.” The article explains that people who do everything perfectly seem unapproachable and intimidating while messing up makes a person human.
It’s a short step indeed to conclude that readers will relate more strongly and sympathetically to people who admit to doubts and mistakes in stories than to pure sunshine and roses reports. But of course! Who among us has not made a mistake, whether disclosed or not? Who hasn’t felt klutzy, embarrassed, or inappropriate at times? We may slap on a mask of invincibility, but inside we cringe.
Here’s an example of how this unfolds in story: A few years ago I read a soap opera superstar’s memoir. I had never watched the program, didn’t know the star, and don’t remember her name today, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. The book sounded like it had been written by her publicist and read like the Death Valley weather report: sunshine 24/7/365. If she had a single moment of doubt or discouragement, it was missing from the book. Anything resembling a setback or problem was immediately recognized as God closing a door and opening a window.
With all due respect, this left me cold. It didn’t sound honest. I can’t believe that woman is so close to sainthood. In my experience, life is not like that for me or anyone I know. In fact, such a well-oiled life sounds, well, boring.
Contrast this with Willie Nelson’s best-selling memoir, It’s a Long Story: My Life. Willie is a bigger superstar than the soap opera queen, but his story rings true. He has stepped in one mud puddle after another through his life, but his sense of humor and destiny come through loud and clear. He makes no attempt to disguise his many short-comings and shares lessons he’s learned from them. He sounds like someone you could walk up to on the street and he’d be happy to see you, whoever you are.
Which story would you rather read?
Take away tip
Temper your story’s sunshine with shadows to give depth and create reader connection.