A good story can really support your message.  But even a good story may need some edits to make it great story.  In preparation for a city council hearing, the director of a NYC settlement house was looking for ways to make the case that health programs for low-income seniors needed continuing funding. She came across this example:

Barbara, age 80, is a retired teacher living in NYC. Her primary source of income is $543/month in Social Security benefits, plus some assistance from her church. She takes seven prescription drugs a day to manage her high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and eye problems. Her monthly drug costs exceed $250, so she often must dip into her savings or ask for help from her daughter. Because of the high costs of drugs, she says she “can’t pay for anything other than food.”

This is a good example that supports the executive director’s testimony.

However, take a look at how this example can be told as a story that even more effectively carries the message that low-income older adults need relief from rising health care costs.

Even at age 80, with high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and eye problems, Barbara is a force. A retired school teacher in NYC, she still teaches Sunday School and volunteers at her church’s day care center during the week. To continue to do the “good work” with children she has done all her life, Barbara takes seven medications daily, and her monthly drug costs are about $250, a huge chunk of the $543 she receives each month from Social Security.

Barbara has already cut costs by switching to generics, but that doesn’t work for her arthritis and eye drugs, which don’t have generic versions. And the prescription drug discount card she has helps, but not enough. Most months, she has to dip into her slim savings or ask her daughter for help.

A proud and independent woman, she has gone to dangerous lengths to avoid asking. In fact, one month, when she tried to cut back on her diabetes medication, her blood sugar soared, and she ended up in the emergency room on the verge of a coma.

“I’ve paid my taxes and worked hard all my life,” she says. “It’s not right that I can’t pay for anything other than food.”

Using the same facts as in the first example and adding anecdotal pieces that personalize it, Barbara’s story is told in a way that many people can easily relate to.

Another benefit of using a story in this way is that different parts of the story can be emphasized depending on the audience. For example, this story could be used to support an argument for expanded case management services (rather than funding for healthcare) by emphasizing the medical, transportation, food and housing issues that Barbara faces.