In one of the Red Carpet interviews before the Academy Awards, director Gretta Gerwig was credited with bringing Lady Bird to life through the attention to detail and realistic elements that were infused in her story. “The more specific something is, the more universal it ends up being,” actress Beanie Feldstein reported Gerwig as saying.

This statement is true for the movie, and I think it has broader applicability. I have been a proponent of specificity for decades, and it is that concreteness that often makes an example come to life as a teaching tool for others. I know that in my workshops participants want a detailed script of how to address accountability, or an actual evaluation or attributes list so they can adapt it to their own use. If I provide something that is just a general outline it seems to have less relevance and transferability.

If a story is specific, it becomes believable and thus we connect with one aspect of it and relate it to our lives. I just finished reading Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Goldfinch and her descriptive genius made me feel as if I was in the museum with the main character. Its richness helped to make it a universal story about friendship and self-reliance.

The next time you are tempted to convey your message with broad strokes, think about Gretta Gerwig’s quote. Provide the specifics to picture ourselves in your story so we can extrapolate meaning from there.

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