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How to tell a great story. (5 storytelling tips)

Everybody loves a great story. Whether we are told a story through film, through a book, or within a marketing campaign, we enjoy being told stories. Great stories teach us, they entertain us, they give us a peek into the life of someone else, and they stir our imaginations. But telling a great story is not as easy as it seems. There are certain aspects that your story needs, or else it will most definitely fail. Without starting your story off the right way, no one will listen to your story; if you can't keep people interested during your story, it will be boring; and if you don't end your story well, it won't be memorable. In this blog, we're going over 4 tips from the book 'Storyworthy' that will help you accomplish the exact opposite of the above. It will help you start your story in the most interesting way possible; help you keep your audience's attention throughout the story; and make it a story your audience will never forget. Here they are:

How to start your story:

The part of your story that will determine whether people will read or listen to it, is the beginning. How you start your story determines if people believe it to be interesting enough to pay with their attention and time for your story. It is thus incredibly important to start your story off the best way possible. The middle and ending of the story can be perfect and enormously entertaining, but if people already drop out right at the start, nobody will even experience the rest of your story, and you will have done all of that work for nothing.

To hook the audiences attention immediately, you have to start your story off with a bang. You want people to be instantly hooked to your story, and then stay for the ride. You do this by starting the story right in the middle of the action. Every single good movie does this, they start their story off with motion. In the dark knight, you immediately find yourself brought into a bank heist, in the latest napoleon movie, you were immediately at the beheading of mary antoinette at the peak of the french revolution. And so there are many more examples of movies and stories which start in the middle of the action. Don’t try and explain too much at first, let the why of the action become clear as you go along in the story, that is not important to explain in the beginning. It’s even crucial that you don’t explain it, because then people will be eager to know why the action happened, and they will be waiting for you to explain it in your story.

Opening with action works so well because the audience immediately gets pulled into the story. One moment they are in the cinema, and the other they completely forget about their surroundings and almost feel like they're in the movie. This is exactly what you want your story to do. You want people to be immersed in it and totally forget about everything else. This is what starting your story off with action does.

Another very important factor of the beginning of your story, is that the beginning should be the exact opposite of the end. This has multiple reasons. First of all, it’s easier to find the perfect beginning of your story when you start at the end, this way you can work back to the true moment the story started, or at least the best moment to start it with. Secondly, your story should be a story of change, without change, the story is not interesting. This means that your ending should leave the main character with being a totally different person than he was before. Take batman begins for example. He starts off with wanting revenge, he is a person with a lot of anger and wants to harm people with it, but near the end of the movie, he realises how important compassion is, and that justice is much more important. He starts with revenge, he ends with compassion. Two things that are almost complete opposites of each other. Find the opposite of your ending, and you know where to start.

Another point for your beginning, is to start it as close to the ending as possible. This makes sure that your story is as simple and the least complex possible, and also forces you to cut out all the unnecessary information that may weaken the story. The simpler your story, the better, because it will be easier to follow and as a result people are more likely to follow it. When people don’t understand your story and have to start thinking, you’ve lost them. Make sure this doesn’t happen. Cut out all the unnecessary garbage, and start your story as close to the ending as possible.

Find that moment of change:

For every great story, there is a reason why it is being told. A lesson that is taught to the audience, an idea you want to convey, or a moment that changed your life in some significant way. Before you tell your story, you need to find the reason why. Most of the time, in personal stories, this is a change that takes place in someone. Someones outlook on life changes, someone becomes a whole different person through some significant event. Every story is about some kind of change. Nobody wants to hear a story about someone who ended the story exactly in the same way he started it, that’s boring and not what we want to hear. 

The most powerful way to clarify this change, is by making it a moment, which Matthew Dicks, the author of storyworthy, calls your 5-second moment. This is a small moment where a significant shift occurs. Suddenly you go from what you were to something entirely different. 

An example of this in action, is in batman begins, where Bruce wayne suddenly switches from wanting revenge, to seeking compassion. It’s when Rah’s al Ghul asks him to slice a man’s throat and he refuses, and ends up blowing up the building. In this moment he realized that compassion is more important than revenge or hatred, and his compassion becomes a recurring theme in the rest of the movie.

This 5-second moment will be an extremely powerful and often moving moment in the story. However, in real life you almost never have such a 5-second moment. Most big changes in your personality do not come in a single moment, they are often a gradual thing, tiny changes that compound. This is however not good for a story, people don’t want to hear how you took a couple of years to figure something out bit by bit. People want to see one moment wherein they can see a significant shift, something that moves or inspires them. 

But to make this gradual change seem like a tiny moment, there is a storytelling trick you can use. By compressing time, you can make gradual changes seem like they happened instantly. You do this by picking a moment, a moment that most exemplifies the change you want to convey to the audience, and simply magnifying the importance of this moment. You need to exaggerate this moment a bit, let them believe that all the change happened in this tiny moment. Pick the moment that shows this change best, magnify it, and there you have your story.

In addition, to make your 5-second moment as powerful as possible, you can lie. I don’t mean lying as in telling something that isn't true, but as in lying by omission, leaving out certain details that interfere with the telling of your story. When a certain detail (a person who distracts from the moment, or some object or event that’s not relevant to it) makes your 5-second moment weaker, by distracting your audience, making it not able to give it’s full attention to the right moment, you can just leave it out of your story. If omitting certain details makes your story better, more cohesive, and makes it easier to focus on the right moments, than leave those details out. What doesn’t matter is what actually happened, what matters is the story that you tell and how good it is. Sometimes the reality is not as interesting as our story, but the audience wouldn’t know either way what's true and what's not. All they know is that you’ve told them a good story, and that they’ve enjoyed themselves.

Paint a vivid picture

To truly get the most out of a story, you shouldn’t just hear it or read it, but you should see it. Visuals are much more powerful than words, but the great thing is, words can create a visual image if you use them correctly. Movies have the advantage of always showing you an image from the story, you don’t have to imagine it yourself. But when it comes to written or spoken stories, the audience has to think of a suitable image by themselves. 

When you can get a visual image from a story, it truly comes to life. Words are just words, but if they can paint you a picture, if you can imagine what the scenery or the situation that is described would be like, then you can truly feel like it is happening right there and then.

A technique you can use to get your audience to paint a picture in the minds, is giving every scene a location. It’s great to speak about people, how they are, and stating some facts, but if you don’t have any idea what setting you should imagine them in, you can’t paint a picture of it, and the words remain just words. To avoid this, give every single scene a setting right at the start of that new scene. Start of with describing the location your audience needs to imagine where the events are taking place in. Describe the important big elements, and provide only the details necessary for the rest of your story. So if you want a scene to be in a school, describe a school, describe what the class looked like, and give some important details about things that were in that class, such as certain friends who play a role in the story. This makes it easy for people to paint a picture of the scene and see everything play out in front of them. Within that scene, they can picture the rest of your story and play a movie of their own inside their heads.

To maximize the effect of describing your location, make sure that you use the least amount of locations possible in your story. Constantly switching from place to place costs the reader lots of effort. If they need to do this often, their minds have to work too much too fast, and they will drop out of the story, never to return. Make sure you describe the location for every single scene, and make your story take place in as few scenes as possible. Doing this makes it impossible for your audience to not become immersed in your story.

Be relatable

Everybody only cares about themselves. When people consume your story, the only thing they are thinking about is why would I read it, what is in it for me, what has this got to do with me. They do not care about your experiences, what you did and how you did it, they care about how what you did relates to them. Therefore one of the most important aspects of your story, is that it should be relatable. People should feel something that is familiar to them, they should feel like the story could be about them, or something they experienced, or at least related to it. 

You don’t make a story relatable by just telling about certain events. A story about a person who inherited billions, puts on a suit, and punches criminals in the face is not that interesting to us. What is interesting however is when this person went through a lot of hardship, that he had to take risks, and that he achieved a lot of his achievements by hard work. The example I give here is of Batman, and it’s a brilliant example of how important relatability is.

Everybody has experienced hardship in their lives, everybody knows what it feels like when you have to take a risk, and everybody can relate to someone who achieved something because he put in work. Even though you couldn’t relate to a billionaire orphan superhero, you still feel some connection with Batman, no matter who you are.

This is exactly what you should do with your story. Don’t make a story that is so unique to you that no one can relate. Make the center of your story very relatable to other people and their lives. Let them feel like they almost could have been you, and that you are exactly like them. 

When you’re crafting your story, make sure to base it on things you have in common with your audience. Everyone experiences hardship, everybody wants to belong to a group, everybody wants to feel love. Play around with these factors and make them the underlying theme of your story. When you make your story relatable, people will feel more connected to it and as a result enjoy your story more.

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