[Tipster] An Intro to Storytelling

tipster post Nov 19, 2021

In this edition of Tipster, we delve into the world of storytelling. 

I get annoyed with all the hubbub about storytelling. It's the "in" thing in branding, TED Talks, and Master Classes. Every conference has a track on storytelling.

It's one thing to trumpet the importance of storytelling.

It's a herculean challenge to write a compelling story.

Over the next year, I plan to add to the hubbub with my "contribution" to storytelling, but my focus is on WRITING a compelling story.

It's a craft. Something you can - and must - learn.

Fiction and Nonfiction 

By the way ...

There is really no difference between fiction and nonfiction when it comes to storytelling. A good story is a good story, whether completely fabricated by the writer or whether it's based on a modicum of truth.

A kind of synonym for the word "storytelling" is the phase "narrative nonfiction."

Today it is used ubiquitously among journalists, literati, and publishing folks.

Memoirs are narrative nonfiction. And so are many books on spirituality, biographies, even the occasional business book.

Stories are at the heart of narrative nonfiction

Back to Story 

Here's a one-line definition of a story, which comes from John Truby's book, "The Anatomy of a Story:"

A speaker tells a listener what someone did to get what he/she wanted and why.

Truby points out that there are three elements to a story:

   the teller,
   the listener, and
   the story that is told.

Here is a quote from Truby about the first element (the teller):

"[T]he storyteller is constructing a kind of puzzle about people and asking the listener to figure it out. The author creates this puzzle in two major ways: he tells the audience certain information about a made-up character, and he withholds certain information. Withholding, or hiding information is crucial to the storyteller's make-believe."

Application to Your Writing 

Most of you are not writing fiction. I know that.

You are writing nonfiction. But if you think and write like a fiction writer, your writing will take a giant leap forward.

Here's one takeaway from that quote: By withholding information or "hiding" information as you tell a story, you are creating tension.

Tension keeps your reader reading.

As Steve Mathewson said in our recent episode on the four elements of storytelling, when the tension is over ... the story is over. Whether the writer is done telling the story or not.

Your reader will bail. There's no reason to keep reading.

So, if you are starting your article or book chapter with a story, what elements of the story are you going to withhold to create tension?

And when will you reveal the hidden parts of the character? And thus release the tension?

At the end of the article or chapter? And how will you re-raise the tension after you release the tension?

That's a lot for this week.

I aspire to write great stories, and I hope you do too.

Now, buckle up and write!