One Step to Becoming a Better Storyteller

Think of someone you know who tells a great story. The kind of person for whom virtually everything that comes out of their mouth is in the form of an interesting story. They are the kind of people you can listen to for hours on end. Someone like Liz. Or The Dude. Storytellers do what they do inherently. It’s simply the way they naturally express themselves. They aren’t just telling you something. They are the weavers of tales. And because they are able to turn everything into a story, the things they say are compelling and memorable.

Isn’t that how you’d like to be when you publish? Compelling and memorable? Well the secret is to be able to find the story in anything, and the secret to doing that? Read on.

Most of us spend far too much time participating in things, and far too little time observing. We are immersed in the middle of our lives, reacting to everything. Life happens to us, and before we know it, it’s all taken place, and the details are all a blur. So when we finally sit down to publish, we come up empty handed. Our descriptions of our days are emotion-based. “I got frustrated, then angry. Then I was happy again. Then I was disappointed.”. We’re feeling our way through things. To be able to find the story, we need to become better observers. Instead of focusing on how you felt, focus on what actually happened. Once you can describe what happened, the emotion of it will follow naturally, in the form of the reactions of your readers. Here’s how.

You could say:

This idiot cut me off on the highway and I ended up in the ditch. He sped off, boy was I angry.

It works, but it’s pretty generic. Because you’re putting the emotion first, the rest of the story sort of falls flat. You’re giving it all away, instead of revealing pieces and allowing your reader to experience the emotions themselves.

If you put yourself into the observer’s shoes, something cool happens:

I was driving down the highway in the middle lane. It was a gorgeous afternoon, but the sun was bright and low over the horizon, making it difficult to see. My favourite Jack Johnson tune was playing quietly on the radio, taking my mind off squinting and into serenity. I saw the red Mazda in my rearview mirror, growing larger by the second. He was moving at a fair clip. The car zoomed up to my tail, then whipped out to my left. It cut back in too fast, clipping my left fender, and sending me into a spin. Everything seemed to slow, as my car spun around and around, 3, then 4 times. When it finally halted, I was in the ditch. I wiggled my fingers and toes, blinked my eyes. I was intact. I glanced up, barely able to see out my cracked windshield, as the red car sped away. Luckily, I was able to catch the word “SPDDMON” on his license plate. Gotcha.

Observing changes your entire perspective on the story, because observing is about noticing the small details. The light outside. The music on the radio. The sensation of spinning. Observing takes you from reactive to narrative in one step, and not only that, it makes the whole process of publishing – whether written, audio, video, what have you – much easier and much more fun.

So, if you’re struggling with your publishing, step back and see if you’re observing or reacting. If it’s the latter, then step into the observer’s shoes for a while. You’ll find that suddenly, the stories will just appear before your eyes. Now all you need to do is hit publish.

[photo by MSVG]

3 comments
Pamela Miles
Pamela Miles

So it's true that Jack Johnson is universal driving music!

Avil Beckford
Avil Beckford

Sue, This is a fantastic post about great storytelling, which I need to work at. I am a great observer, but I seem to have difficulty to translate that into fantastic imagery, my left brain often gets in the way. Thank you! Avil

Emilie
Emilie

Excellent post and fantastic advice. I plan to take it to get started on writing blog posts again. Thanks!