We said it as children. We now hear our children say it. “Tell me a story.” However, it’s important, especially as a writer, to ask, “What is a story?”
On the surface, it seems a relatively easy question to answer. After all, a story is an account of real or imagined people and events. But, as writers, we know that a story is much more. Stories are journeys, adventures, time machines, history makers, memory preservers, and entertainment. Plainly put, stories are magic.
But what purpose do stories serve, and why have we have always told and continue to tell them?
Storytelling functions as a means to connect people. Before written word, stories were told to convey news and information. And, like today, stories were a way to entertain, teach morals, recount history, perpetuate a belief system, and create and preserve memories.
Sharing a culture’s myths and treasured stories from one generation to the next establishes tradition and strengthens community, creating a bond in the shared experience.
In essence, storytelling is the way in which we connect to one another. There is, however, an art to it.
You know this if you have ever suffered through a rambling wedding toast or endured an awkward eulogy. At one event or another, we all have been subjected to a story that has made us uncomfortable, bored, confused, or uneasy.
So, how do you tell a good story? How do you master the art of story telling?
These questions plague many writers. And as with any art, there is innate talent, but there are also tips that can help. The following apply to both oral and written stories.
Know Your Audience: Make sure your material is appropriate to the crowd listening or reading. For example, don’t tell a group of Pentecostal ministers a story about sexual bondage.
Say/Write What You Feel: Emotions are powerful; we all have them. We may not all agree on certain topics, but we all know what it is to feel sadness, joy, anger, disappointment, grief. Infusing your stories with emotions instantly bonds you to your listeners/readers.
Show, Don’t Tell: Never tell your audience or readers how to feel, what to think or what to believe. Don’t lead them to conclusions. Instead, show them. A storyteller says, “the moral of my story is…” because a good storyteller doesn’t have to.
Create an Interesting Crowd: Tell or write stories about people who are interesting. And if they aren’t, make them so. Most of us are already caught in the monotony of life; we want our stories filled with heroes, adventurers, risk-takers, and rule-breakers. The best characters are those who are unique, exciting, and fascinating but still relatable.
Simplify: Storytelling doesn’t need to be complicated. Convoluted storylines, confusing changes to the plot, archaic vocabulary words, irrelevant details and tedious description detracts from your story. There is eloquence in simplicity.
Use Your Voice: Use your strengths. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re serious, be serious. Find your voice and work on making it better instead of making it a poor imitation of someone else’s style.
Share: Always put, even if just a hint, of yourself into every story you write or tell. It could be an experience, a thought, a belief or an emotion. Your audience or readers will, on some level, feel it. And in doing so, you will make a connection with them, which is the whole purpose of storytelling.
Remember, truly mastering the art of storytelling is knowing that everyone has a story worth telling but understanding that not everyone can tell it.
Thank you for reading. I look forward to your comments.