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Powerful and memorable, storytelling is one of the most effective means of online communications.
But what type of stories should we tell? And how should we tell these stories to our audiences?
Thanks to the book Story Power by Kate Farrell, I’ve learned a few “secrets” to creating, crafting and telling memorable stories from professional storytellers and authors.
Written in an easy-to-read manner, the book provided useful frameworks woven around the art of the personal narrative.
So what are these storytelling secrets and how do we use them?
Let us first look at the nine types of stories you can tell.
What Stories Should You Tell?
In the first 2 chapters of the book, we’re introduced to the different types of stories which can be “spun into gold.”
They cover three main topics.
#1 Personal Stories
These are incidents and milestones which may occur in our personal lives, and include the following:
- Childhood & Coming of Age — Significant events that shape how our feel, think, and act in our lives
- Adventure Stories — Encounters both positive and negative that we experience, often during our travels
- Trials & Challenges — Barriers that we managed (or did not manage) to overcome in our life journey
#2 Professional Stories
Suited for a corporate audience, these stories may be useful in communicating our product, corporate or personal brands.
- Defining Story — These “milestone moments” that shaped who we are and why we do what we do (they’re our identity builders)
- Signature Story — Also known as the “elevator speech”, think of these short vignettes and boilerplates as “pitches”
- Personal Brand Story — Brief, compelling narratives distilled from defining stories and signature stories
#3 Family Stories
Family stories can be rich fodder for a storytelling audience. Often they can also be interwoven with the other story types.
- Family Folklore — Traditions and values garnered from remembered experiences of generations past and present
- Family Secrets & Shadows — Skeletons in the closets? Possibly also rumours, puzzles, and mysteries from the past
- Family Legacy — Heroic headlines and stories that everybody in the family should know
(In the book, you’ll see lots of fascinating vignettes that are exemplify each category.)
How to Effectively Tell a Story?
Now that you’ve selected a type of story to tell, your next step is put it together. In the book, we learn seven steps to storytelling drawn from the Word Weaving Storytelling Project. I’ll briefly cover what these steps are.
#1 Choose and Prepare the Right Story
Pick from one of the nine storytelling topics mentioned earlier (or others).
Make sure that you have the following storytelling ingredients ready:
- Setting/ Environment — When and where your story takes place
- Characters — Who are the people present (especially your protagonist or hero)
- Conflict and tension — All good stories have a conflict and issue to be resolved
- Narrative arc — Capture scenes of rising action and increasing tension in your story
- Sensory details within the action — These can be specific objects, events, people, or places that are richly described
- Dialogues if available — Actual conversations can be powerful ways to make your tale more compelling and vivid
- Resolution of the conflict — Show how the dilemma was eventually resolved (or not resolved)
If necessary, do research by interviewing people close to the story, or check out libraries and archives for records. You may also use newspaper cuttings, photographs, video clips and audio clips to augment your story.
Occasionally you could assemble props and artefacts — these could be valuable in the storytelling process.
Make sure you have the raw materials ready for piecing together your story.
#2 Frame Your Story in Sections
Once you’ve got your story ingredients in place, you should frame it using keywords and images. There are several tools you can use here:
- Storyboards — These are useful to visually depict each sequence (read how you can use these for user stories here)
- Outlines — List down the sequence of events using bullet points
- Index cards/ mind maps — Useful prompts that can aid in storytelling
- Scripting — For more professional storytelling contexts, but do avoid reading from the script when you’re narrating the story
(See also the 7 storytelling formulas for social media)
#3 Visualise Your Settings and Characters
Next, you should close your eyes and imagine each setting as if it were a movie set.
Notice the details like colour and light. Engage your senses (except your hearing — more on that later).
What can you smell? What can you taste? How is the texture on the scene like?
This requires your powers of concentration. Its goal is to capture as much of the rich sensory details of your story as possible.
#4 Imagine the Action — Like a Silent Movie
Having all the “props” and “actors” ready, your next step is to visualise how the action moves like a silent movie.
Close your eyes. Using your mind’s eye, review each scene. Which parts are fast-paced? Which parts move slowly?
According to the author, this is the most important part of storytelling preparation.
The more vividly you can visualise the story in your mind’s eye, the better your story will be.
#5 Tell the Story Aloud, and Project the Images Visualised
Next, practice telling your story aloud. Use your voice to provide your story’s soundtrack — the narrative, dialogue, sound effects, and emotional tone.
Note that there are several ways to deliver your stories:
- Conversational storytelling — These are the most casual and informal, like sitting around a campfire. Ensure that there is interaction with your audience.
- Professional storytelling — These are often more scripted, and may be to a large audience. Often, they are more one-way in nature.
- Performance (stage or camera) — These often require a more performative type of storytelling, with the need to use techniques like vocalisation to convey your story.
#6 Learn the Story by Heart (But Don’t Memorize)
You do not want to look like you are reading from a script. Thus, it is useful to talk to people and learn the full details of the story by research or speaking to eyewitnesses.
Consider too the symbolism of the story. What are the layers of meaning within the story? Are there any subtexts — what cannot be said — which the story conveys?
#7 Practice, Practice, PRACTICE!
Lastly, repeat telling the story to a live audience. You can recruit your family, friends, or pets! Or you can use a mirror without notes, or record yourself and play it back.
Universal Storytelling Themes and Archetypes
The last section of the book explores some of the age-old structures and archetypes involved in storytelling. These can be useful as resources to embellish your story further or refine it as your craft your tale.
#1 Storytelling Motifs
These are recurring thematic elements found in tales across multiple cultures. Common motifs include:
- Journeying through dark forests or caves
- Fantastic cures
- Enchanted transformations
- Meeting magical creatures
- Impossible tasks
- Clever deceptions
- Poisoned chalices
- Magical lamps
- Caves of hidden treasures
#2 Tale Types
Also known as a basic plot, these were conceived by Christopher Booker in his book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.
They include the following story types (there are more than seven actually!):
- Overcoming the Monster: Where the hero has to descend into the lair of a monster threatening his community, slay it, and escape with the monster’s treasure
- Rags to Riches: A person of humble beginnings somehow managed to fulfill his or her potential at the end
- The Quest: Where the hero goes on a journey to retrieve a great prize located far away
- Voyage and Return: Similar to The Quest, except that the hero journeys to a strange world which may be enchanting — while being threatening and dangerous — and hence, he has to find a means of escaping and returning home to safety
- Comedy: Stories in which a community fragmented by frustration, selfishness, bitterness, confusion, lack of self-knowledge, and lies must find a way to be reunited and coexist in love, peace and harmony
- Tragedy: Here, a character plummets from prosperity to destruction due to a fatal mistake
- Rebirth: In this situation, a hero is trapped by a villain or dark power in a “living death” until she can be freed by another character’s actions
- Rebellion Against “The One”: The hero rebels against an all-powerful entity which controls the world, until that entity has to surrender his or her power
- Mystery: Here, an outsider witnesses a horrific event (such as a murder or other heinous crime), and has to uncover the truth of what really happened
#3 Story Archetypes
These are more conceptual, and were coined by famed psychotherapist Carl Jung.
- Archetypal Events — Milestone occurrences like birth, death, independence, initiation, task, quest, marriage, union of opposites
- Archetypal Figures — The great mother, father, child, maiden, wise old man or woman, trickster, shadow, hero or heroine
- Archetypal Motifs — Apocalypse, natural disaster, creation
You can read more about Carl Jung’s archetypes in this article here.
In the age of digital technology and social media, storytelling has taken new formats. Spoken story platforms like The Moth and TED Talks capture the attention of millions around the world, while written stories often feature prominently on social networks like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, Twitter, and blogs.
Thanks to Story Power: Secrets to Creating, Crafting and Telling Memorable Stories, we now have a more structured way to tell our tales. These strategies can be used effectively across all channels — be they online or offline.
Were there any story which resonated with you through the years? Which stories are the hardest to tell?