Storytelling: 15 techniques to spice up your story
We all want to become better storytellers. It’s an invaluable skill to be able to tell amazing stories that inspire your customers, colleagues and friends. But how do you master the art of storytelling?
In general, even a great idea will not become a reality if you don’t succeed in convincing those around you of its value. A good storyteller can effectively explain his or her ideas and gather support for them. Being able to captivate your audience enables you to make ideas happen. In this article, you can find 15 simple tricks that you can use immediately to spice up your stories. These storytelling techniques are all-powerful and have been used in popular books, documentaries, tv-shows, theatre plays, films, computer games, Ted Talks, and many other fields.
15 powerful storytelling techniques
Give your audience a sneak peek of your story. A taster of what you have to offer. People will be curious to see and hear more. Just like you want to watch the full movie after seeing an intriguing trailer for a new film. It’s the same reason you are dragged into another night of binge-watching after seeing a preview of the next episode of your favourite series on Netflix.
People hate ‘loose ends’. We have a need for closure. That’s why the ‘cliffhanger’ (infamous from the last seconds of a tv soap opera), is a great way to grab and hold people’s attention. Your audience will be desperate to know how your story develops or ends.
By adding unexpected elements or plot twists you keep your story exciting. You can achieve this by working towards something and then, out of nowhere, taking your story into another direction. You can also introduce an unexpected event that blows your audience out of the water.
We are curious creatures and a bit of mystery can stir up our curiosity. It’s like solving a riddle or watching a magic trick. We want to figure out how it works. We want to understand the secret and we won’t let go until we’ve solved it. For the storyteller, this means a captivated audience.
Tell a joke, choose a funny format or add silly elements to your story. Humour is a powerful way to engage your audience. If you amuse people they will love to find out more. Make me laugh and I will listen.
Remarkable things grab our attention. Whether it’s something extraordinary, cool, or weird. If it’s something people have never seen or heard before, they will want to know more. Make people wonder and your story will stick and spread.
Numbers (no matter how impressive) make for a boring story. Your audience needs to feel empathy and emotion. That’s why you should always introduce a character they can relate to. This can be you, but it can also be a (fictional or real) character that helps to make your story more relatable. After a disaster, nonprofit organizations show individual victims in their campaign to turn an abstract problem (e.g. an earthquake) into a relatable story of an individual like you and me.
Great storytelling is all about drama. Drama is what makes a story interesting. Drama can be a direct problem (‘if we don’t do something we are going to hit that iceberg!‘), a conflict (‘we only have two remaining lifeboats, we have to choose who lives or dies…’) or a direct threat, the so-called ‘ticking clock’ (‘Because of the irreparable damage, the ship will sink to the bottom of the ocean in 60 minutes!‘).
When you want to tell a great dramatic story I advise you to use Joseph Campbell’s ‘monomyth’. Better known as the ‘Hero’s Journey‘. This is the classic layout for every hero story. You can find it everywhere. From the ancient legends, myths, and fairytales to world-famous books & Hollywood movies, such as The Matrix, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars. They all use the same storytelling structure.
Below you can find a short animation video that explains the individual steps. For more information, you can best read Campbell’s book ‘Hero with a Thousand Faces‘.
The article (with tips & tricks) continues below the videos.
Dan Harmon, the creator of the science-fiction animation series Rick and Morty, has simplified the hero’s journey. Dan created his own version called ‘The Story Circle‘. This version contains 8 steps.
If your protagonist is the hero of the story, you can also create his Antagonist. The enemy your main character is competing with. The villain is a great resource for drama. The battle between a protagonist and an antagonist makes a story interesting. Just think about it. What is Harry Potter without Voldermort? Batman without the Joker? Jerry without Tom? For some Villain inspiration, you might want to check out The Periodic Table of Storytelling by James Harris.
‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’ ‘ Laughter is the best medicine.’ Our language is filled with metaphors. The metaphor is a powerful way to appeal to your audience’s imagination by comparing two unrelated subjects with each other. You can use a metaphor as part of your story or you can turn your entire story into one big metaphor.
What’s your main character’s objective? What does he or she need to do? Climb a mountain? Win a game? Save a princess? By giving your main character a goal, you add direction to your story.
12. Bright future
A true storyteller is able to paint a vivid picture. A ‘dream’ that will make you look forward to the future. A great storyteller will not talk about what is, but about what can be. Just think of John F. Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the Moon”, or Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream”.
Using multiple storylines can help to make your story more interesting. You can, for example, tell the main story from the point of view of several different characters. You can also share multiple stories as examples to prove or explain your main message.
As a storyteller, you can play with time. To make your story more dynamic you can start halfway (e.g. in the middle of the action), flashback to the past, or flash forward to the future. Don’t hesitate to speed things up or slow things down to make your story more vivid.
15. Highs & lows
A well-told story consists of highs and lows. After all, you cannot continuously leave your audience in suspense. Keep this in mind and vary exciting action with quiet moments. Vary tension and work towards a climax.
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