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"SaY" it with a story: 6 Rules of Storytelling

Mastering humanity's oldest art form.

Nobody knows when the first story was told. It predates any recorded history. Despite it's long legacy, most folks view storytelling as a mysterious gift that only a lucky few possess. But that's a myth.


Effective storytelling involves a deep understanding of human emotions, motivations, and psychology in order to truly move an audience.


Luckily, storytelling is something we all do naturally, starting at a very young age. Here are 6 tips to go from being a "good" storyteller to a "great" storyteller.


"Storytelling is the greatest technology that humans have ever created."

1. Great stories are universal


Great storytelling is about taking a piece of the human condition (so things like birth, growth, emotionality, aspiration, conflict) and conveying it in a unique situation.


“What you’re trying to do, when you tell a story, is to write about an event in your life that made you feel some particular way. And what you’re trying to do, when you tell a story, is to get the audience to have that same feeling.”

One way you can do this is to pull apart the stories you like.


Break down every little element about what you love about them. Those are real feelings you’re having and you have to recognize them in detail in order to tell a great story yourself.


In other words, self knowledge and awareness are at the the root of all great storytelling.


You are part of the human condition and people will relate to that.


2. Great stories have a clear structure and purpose


Use a structure to define your stories.


Once upon a time there was [blank]. Every day, [blank]. One day [blank]. Because of that, [blank]. Until finally [bank].


Using the structure you can define a truly unique story.


The second aspect to consider is the Purpose.


Why must you tell THIS story?

What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of?

What greater purpose does this serve? What does it teach?


That’s the heart of really great storytelling.


By crafting a story that you are passionate to tell because it serves a real purpose, your stories will have bigger impact on the world.


I think that gets lost a lot of the time.


3. Great stories have a character to root for (an underdog)


Believe it or not, people want to root for you (the main character).


AND they love a good underdog.


This might seem straightforward but it’s worth keeping in mind anytime you’re creating a story.


When your character is battling against all odds, facing adversity, or their back is against the wall, well then, you have yourself the makings of great story.


In our modern society, for example, everyone loves a good “rags to riches” story. How many times has Forbes published an article about the fearless entreprenuer that dropped everything, almost failed dozens of times along the way, yet still managed to create a multi-million dollar business?


Give the people an unexpected hero to root for.


4. Great stories appeal to our deepest emotions


Psychologists generally agree that there are six basic emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise.


The more you understand how/when your own emotional levers are pulled, the more you’ll appreciate how that works in other people (and the more you’ll be able to hone those emotions in your stories).


Consciously being to recognize these various emotions in yourself —and think about the “why”.


Why are you feeling a certain way? How might you be able to take the “why” behind your emotions and tell a story?


Continuously question yourself in order to understand your own emotional reactions to stories so that you can learn to tell more authentic stories that reach and move people where it counts.


5. Great stories are surprising and unexpected


We’ve all seen the classic “fairytale” storyline: a helpless princess in need and a charming prince swooping in to save the day.


Boring (and totally outdated).


What makes modern stories compelling are when our perceptions of reality are challenged or changed in some way.


Challenge yourself to dig deep.


6. Great stories are simple and focused


We as audiences know a good story when we see or hear one.


Have you ever watched a movie or read a book where you had to keep asking yourself (or someone else) what was happening in the plot?


Not a great experience.


As creators, we naturally want to include as much information as possible in our stories. We want to pack the story full of characters and plot twists and dialogue.


And often times we might not even realize that we’re adding layers that don’t need to be there.


While you as the creator may feel like you’re losing lots of valuable stuff, it’ll set you free in the end and will allow your audience to get lost in the narrative.


One way to find out if your story is easy to follow is to tell it to a friend or family member who has never heard it before. Watch their face as you read it and try to see where they pause and what questions they might have.


Simplify, simplify, simplify.


Your Voice. Their Imagination.
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