Who is this for?
If your job relies on communication with other people, you can likely benefit from improving your storytelling. This isn’t aimed at professional writers. It’s for anyone who has to stand up in front of colleagues and give a presentation. It’s for professionals who want to be more persuasive and compelling. Buckle up, I’ll bounce from joke structure to memo writing, from brand strategy to filmmaking.
What do you mean “storytelling?”
“Storytelling” gets thrown around a lot but often isn’t accompanied by any detailed or reasonable explanation. While telling stories is a powerful tool for inclusion and engagement, the term “storytelling” often creates more barriers than bridges.
To me, storytelling is about crafting a compelling narrative that involves a central character moving through time and space. Wait, what?!
Yeah, that explanation is meant to be vague. Stories aren’t just in the books we read, the movies we watch, and the shows we binge. Storytelling happens in a single sentence, a joke, a presentation at work, a project brief you write up, and of course, at family gatherings.
Storytelling is a way of recounting events by offering information to the audience in an intentional sequence, designed to trigger emotional, mental, and sometimes even physical responses.
Join me as I deconstruct storytelling to the point where you’ll get annoyed when you realize Avatar is actually just Pocahontas retold, 10 Things I Hate About You is Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and O Brother, Where Art Thou? is Homer’s Odyssey.
But what do you actually mean about deconstructing storytelling?
This is bad storytelling
Sarah won a writing award because she wrote a really great essay. She worked hard on it. Her family and friends were really happy that she won. Sarah wants to be a professional writer one day.
This is better storytelling (still not great)
Committed to shedding light on an issue she was passionate about, Sarah dedicated hundreds of hours to finishing her essay. In the end, not only was she proud of her work, but she received an award for it. Family and friends showered her with joyful embrace, congratulations, and a bit too much champagne.
While details help stories come to life, good storytelling is more about sequence of information than anything else. In the previous example of bad storytelling, the culminating event or conclusion was the first piece of information offered. Everything else was inconsequential. Stories need to hook, captivate, and satisfy. When you become more familiar with storytelling mechanics, you get to play with the rules.
Sarah won. Champagne bottles around her popped, friends and family embraced with joy. Those hours squirrelled away in her room writing had paid off. Her award in one hand, a bound copy of her essay in the other, Sarah knew she wanted to be a writer.
This time, even though the culminating event is communicated in the first two words, information is withheld, triggering the question, “what did Sarah win?” An explanation follows and paints a broader picture. Hooked, captivated, satisfied.
Rules of storytelling
You tell me. You’re doing it everyday. Sometimes really well, sometimes really poorly. And most of the time, you’re not doing it intentionally. This is why I insist on a very loose definition of what storytelling actually is: a central character moving through space and time. The rest of the details we get to make up on along the way. That’s the fun part.
We’re here to explore, develop frameworks together, and prove ourselves wrong.
Let’s get started.
What you can expect
My aim is deconstruct storytelling into little bits and pieces so you recognize them anywhere. You’ll be able to look at a picture and understand the story it tells. You’ll listen to a political speech and understand how stories can manipulate and obfuscate without false information. You’ll watch your favourite movie and recognize what information the main character doesn’t know that you, the audience does.
Once you build these muscles, you’ll be able to wield the power of storytelling in your everyday life.