Storytelling is not just for writers, public speakers and your grandma; the ability to tell a compelling story will help you in every aspect of your everyday life and in anything you create.
When someone tells us a story–whether it’s a personal anecdote about a lesson they learned growing up or a children’s bedtime fairy tale–they are sharing an intimate part of who they are and seeking connection and understanding from us, the listener. Good storytelling can assist us in explaining complex ideas, illustrate our understanding of the world and even help us earn the trust of others.
Whether you’re a filmmaker, comic book artist, brand marketer or just want to improve your ability to tell a compelling story, put these five easy tricks into practice and you’ll be well on your way to being a master storyteller.
5 Easy Tricks That Will Make You a Better Storyteller
Immerse yourself in diverse stories
I would bet that you read the same blogs, watch the same television shows and listen to the same podcasts in your everyday life. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with immersing yourself in things you know you already enjoy, this is a good way to limit your awareness of diverse forms and styles of storytelling. Eventually, this becomes a crutch that will not only hinder your ability to empathize with a wide range of types of people but will likely cause others to have difficulty in relating to the stories you tell.
Without realizing it, we regularly censor ourselves from listening to stories that might help us improve not only our understanding of the world but our ability to share it with others. It’s only when we allow ourselves to open up our hearts and minds to other types of people and listen to the stories they tell that we can truly expect them to listen to and empathize with our own.
So next time you visit Netflix, how about checking out Werewolf Horror Movies before habitually hopping into the Recommend For You section? Or taking a peek at the Style section of the newspaper when you usually only read Business. Or maybe even go to a talk on music licensing even though you’re a visual artist.
Conflict is what moves your story forward and without it, your tale will fall flat and your characters won’t have experienced any growth. Even though it’s one of the most essential parts of storytelling, many people often put the least amount of work into conflict or forget it altogether.
Alright, so you care about your characters deeply and you don’t want them to be put in harm’s way or have to go through a traumatic experience—totally logical. But when you forget to put any challenges in from of your character or give them any hard problems to solve, you are essentially doing them a disservice; they cannot come out on top if there’s nothing to climb.
So how do you create conflict? The best place to start is by figuring out what the character’s strengths and weaknesses are. Oftentimes, conflict will happen when a character is hit where they are weak; their strengths are then used to get them out of conflict.
Familiarize yourself with a basic outline
If you’re anything like me, outlines and artistic constraints scare the life out of you. Art is meant to be free and messy, right? Surprisingly, artistic constraints can actually make you more creative!
You’ve probably at some point in your life stared at a blank canvas or page and thought to yourself, Where do I even begin? If you’re a visual artist, you likely start with a pencil outline of whatever it is you’re creating; the same is true for a storyteller. The best first step to any creative project is a good old-fashioned outline. An outline will give you enough structure to get started while also allowing you the freedom to get as creative as you’d like within (and outside) the lines.
A story outline doesn’t need to be complex and is usually broken up into five parts: Exposition (the inciting action of the story), rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.
Next time you’re looking at a blank screen in hopes of it magically turning itself into a New York Times bestseller or telling someone a story about how you had the most ridiculous run-in with an old friend at the grocery store, think back to this basic structure. Even if you don’t know where the story will lead you, you will at the very least have an idea of the direction you could take to get there.
Don’t force a theme
The moral of your story might not be the same for everyone and so it’s important you let your audience decide what to take away from it themselves.
You’ve probably heard the term “show, don’t tell” at some point in your life and this is especially true for the message you’re trying to convey in your story. Don’t end it with “The reason why I’m telling you this is…” or “And so the theme of this story is…” That’s a pretty good way to alienate your audience, especially if they came to a completely different (and equally valuable) conclusion about the meaning behind your story.
If you’ve ever watched a movie with a cliffhanger, chances are you’ve probably made your own decision as to the outcome of the story. Maybe the main character finds true love after all or they die a horrible death the second after the end credits roll. The best storytellers allow the audience to decide what happens in the end.
Improvisation is the act of doing something without any previous preparation. Without realizing it, we improvise every single day. When we’re called on at a meeting to give an opinion on something; when we decide what to make for breakfast in the morning based on what’s in the kitchen; each time we experiment with new techniques in our art. You could argue that most of life is all about improvising and trying new things.
If you consciously practice improvisation, however, you will find that it will greatly improve your ability to tell a compelling story and help you get through those creative blocks you might often face.
While there are tons of ways to practice improvisation, the best way you can hone these skills is by taking an improv workshop. In these classes, you’ll learn the fundamentals of improv as a storytelling technique, and improve your ability to quickly draw upon creative ideas in everyday life.
One of my favorite aspects of improv is that the word No is not allowed. In order to keep a story moving–both in improv comedy and in general storytelling–we must be open to the possibility that anything can and does happen. And when it does, we’re ready to build on it to make the story even better.
Do you have a great story to tell? Find out how Patreon can help you earn a living as a storyteller here!