Storytelling – What Is It?

Storytelling is an art form that spans way back through the ages and has roots in travelling migrants looking for shelter and food for the night as they pass from camp to camp or village to village. The better the story, the greater the meal. And if they could tell more than one good story then they are usually invited to stay another night.

Stories were often topical and satirised events of the times, about things that were happening in faraway places. Myths and legends, heroes and villains, stories were the storyteller’s version of their truths and experiences gathered together in a tale built up over a lifetime of adventures.

I can recall many great stories and they all have a few things in common.

All stories start with an invitation or a promise…”once upon a time” or “in a faraway land”. It invites the reader to step out of where they are and journey with the storyteller to a new place, a place where they can participate in the adventure.

ALWAYS give the reader or audience of your story a 2 + 2 scene and never a 2 + 2 = 4 solution. Readers want to work for their meal, they want to fill in the blanks with their own beliefs and experiences, their own values and thoughts. The reader wants to work stuff out for themselves.

To create drama, show people what is around them, show them the scenes, events or conflicts by creating imagery, show them by drafting tension into the plot without giving away that source of tension. Create anticipation, build uncertainty. Drama is itself an unsettling and unnerving journey away from the normal.

Each character should have the capacity to transform from one state to another. From likeable to unlikeable or the other way around. The character should have a central spine that the reader can identify and react to. They never experienced love, they were mean or unkind, they suffered abuse or have character flaws. Their journey throughout the story will let you see them in a different light. It will provide a chance for redemption or an opportunity to change how you feel about them. Each character should have an inner driver that the reader gets and can see how this affects their journey through the story. This happens when the character themselves recognise it, own it and seek to rectify or change it.

Our characters aren’t really real but the writer must force us to create real feelings for them. A writer must know every detail about their character before they start to write about them. The writer must live with the character in both head and heart. You would feel their presence even if you were in a darkened room with them.

But by far the most important part of any story is how it invokes wonder. Wonder is the magic that will live with the reader forever. Wonder is the single most powerful response to the events as they unfold. Wonder is the DNA of the book and the thing that will bring it to life. Un-put-down-able books are full of wonder.

Wonder is the place hidden between truth and lies. It’s a magical portal that punches holes in our mental walls. It’s the secret doorway that opens up, a little at a time, to let the story out into the world.

As the writer, I will use all of these techniques, I will present all of these elements and I will weave them through and around each character as they navigate the plot. By letting the reader fill in their own blanks, I won’t cloud or restrict them by limiting what they imagine. As an author, I write using my own experiences, my values, my prejudices and my beliefs. All of these things I will pass on to the reader at a cellular level (if I get it right). I will put forward my premise in a plot that is mine. My gift will be to present a piece of work that engages the reader and liberates them to participate rather than just observe.

Here goes…