I stumbled upon one of those radio shows where people call-in to request songs. That’s when I heard one of the most powerful, single-story sentences ever.
Listener Cynthia requested a song. When the host asked if she wanted to dedicate it to someone, the caller said no. She explained that the song held special meaning because it helped her beat cancer.
I found myself leaning in to hear more.
She then described a lonely battle with the disease—one that she completed without her husband. “I left him after my 2nd chemo treatment,” she said.
The statement hit me in the gut. I felt empathy for her and wanted to know more. My mind went into overdrive to piece together the massive amount of information contained in those eight, simple words. So, what made those words more impactful than any other eight words?
1. They contained many facts that a) revealed how Cynthia was in the midst of her cancer treatments, b) her husband was presumably there in the beginning, and c) something happened by the end of her second treatment that resulted in her decision to leave.
2. Those facts defied all expectations. Cancer stories usually have one of two endings: triumph or defeat. Both are typically supported by a cast of loved ones. But this story throws a huge twist at us. If Cynthia left her husband during one of the most vulnerable times in her life, where did this reservoir of strength come from? Why did she have to use it? And what did her husband do (or not do?) to precipitate such an extraordinary response?
3. The facts were delivered using brilliant word choice.
Let’s parse the sentence: “I left him after my second chemo treatment.”
I – delivers Cynthia’s message through the first-person POV
left him – Listener’s have prior knowledge that breakups are emotional. Therefore, it’s natural for listeners to experience that same emotion instantly.
chemo treatment – sets off a series cognitive connections within the listener’s brain to long, torturous therapies that can make an extremely sick person feel even sicker.
second – is the glue that holds this single-sentence story together because it establishes a pattern. The word infers that there was a first treatment, followed by an event (or series of events) that forced Cynthia to leave her husband.
Single-story sentences give just enough information to ignite a story fire within the listener’s head. Can you write one? Give it a try. Use carefully chosen words to present facts that defy listener expectations. It’s not easy, but when done well, it connects with an audience in unparalleled ways.
Photo Credit: Adams, Ansel, photographer. Nurse Aiko Hamaguchi and patient Toyoko Ioki, Manzanar Relocation Center, California / photograph by Ansel Adams. California Manzanar, 1943. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2002697853/.