3 Days to better storytelling — Day 3: Practice

Freytag's pyramid, annotated by Samantha Tetangco

Freytag’s pyramid, annotated by Samantha Tetangco

This is the last of our 3-part blog series, “3 Days to better storytelling,” tips and ideas for strengthening your storytelling skills. You may also want to check out Day 1: Get inspired and Day 2: Prepare.

Day 3: Practice

If you’ve been looking for your moment to give storytelling a try, today could be your day. You’ve heard from experts about how and why stories engage audiences. You’ve been listening for stories in your daily life and thinking about what works, and what doesn’t, in grabbing and keeping your attention. You’ve also tried out a few simple experiments to get to know your audience. You have a good sense of who they are and how your message connects to what they care about.

Now all you need is a few tools for crafting the story that will carry your ideas.

1. Compose.

As filmmaker Denise Withers noted on Stanford Social Innovation Review blog, at its most basic, a story is nothing more than a problem, a quest by someone to solve the problem, and a solution. Map out your story using these questions as a guide: What’s the problem? Who took it on? What did they have to do to solve it? What was the solution?

Alternatively, try using the graphic above as a roadmap for building your story. Known as Freytag’s pyramid (annotated here by fiction writer and teacher Samantha Tetangco), this diagram lays out the structure many narratives follow. Try populating it with the specifics — the people, the problem, and the solution — of the experience you want to render as a story. To see an example, watch John Calderazzo at minute 2:44 of his AGU Chapman Conference talk.

Or try filling in one of these templates:

  • Pixar’s “story rule #4″: “Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.”  You’ll find this and other story rules on the Pixar Touch blog.
  • Randy Olson’s Connection Storymaker app, based on his “and, but, therefore” structure. Build your story from a single word into a sentence and then a paragraph, using templates on your phone.
  • If you gravitate to a visual approach, try sketching out the plot using a storyboard.

Once you have the structure of your story down, flesh it out using concrete, simple language (images, smells, sounds). Make sure it has:

  • a hook that brings the audience in by connecting with something from their experience
  • an emotional impact (surprise, suspense, identification with the main character)
  • a meaning (moral) that provides a hook for learning something new.

2. Test.

Once you’ve developed your story, tell it to someone. Watch their reaction. Get their feedback. Did the story have an emotional impact? Was the meaning clear? Was it memorable? What could be improved?

3. Refine.

Incorporate feedback you get. As you tell your story to different audiences, think about how you might want to modify it. You may need to emphasize different aspects, depending on their interests.

Stories can be a powerful tool for connecting with others and sharing knowledge. As you try out the “3 Days” tools and tips, leave us a comment. What are your best tips for storytelling?

Pam Sturner is the executive director of the Leopold Leadership Program

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