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Writing

How to Tell a Story Effectively: 7 Storytelling Tips

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Feb 12, 2020 • 4 min read

Storytelling allowed people to make sense of the world and derive deeper meaning from their lives since the beginning of human history. The techniques and delivery methods of good storytelling may have changed since then, but the power of storytelling to move us and provoke a deeper sense of connection between us has stayed consistent. As a writer, developing your storytelling skills and learning how to spin your own experiences into a story takes practice, but there are tried and true methods of improving your craft.

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How to Tell a Story Effectively

Storytelling is a powerful tool that great leaders use to motivate the masses and masterful writers harness to create classic literature. If you’re just getting started writing and telling stories, here are some storytelling tips that can help you strengthen your narratives and engage your audience:

  1. Choose a clear central message. A great story usually progresses towards a central moral or message. When crafting a story, you should have a definite idea of what you’re building toward. If your story has a strong moral component, you’ll want to guide listeners or readers to that message. If you’re telling a funny story, you might build toward a twist that will leave your audience in stitches. If you’re telling an engaging story, try to increase the dramatic tension and suspense right up until the climax of your narrative. Regardless of what type of story you are telling, it’s important to be very clear on the central theme or plot point that you are building your story around.
  2. Embrace conflict. As a storyteller, you can’t shy away from conflict. Great storytellers craft narratives that have all sorts of obstacles and hardships strewn in the path of their protagonists. In order to be satisfied with a happy ending, audiences have to watch the main characters struggle to achieve their goals. It’s okay to be cruel to your main characters—in fact, it’s necessary. Compelling plots are built on conflict, and it’s imperative that you embrace conflict and drama in order to become a better storyteller.
  3. Have a clear structure. There are many different ways to structure a story, but the three ingredients a story must have are a beginning, middle, and end. On a more granular level, a successful story will start with an inciting incident, lead into rising action, build to a climax and ultimately settle into a satisfying resolution. There are many books and online resources that can help you better understand these terms and acquaint you with other storytelling techniques. Additional insights into story structure can be gleaned by exposing yourself to great storytellers in literature and film and practicing laying out your own stories on paper so you can observe their shape and structure.
  4. Mine your personal experiences. Whether or not you are telling a real story directly based on personal experience, you can always look to your life for inspiration when coming up with new stories. Think about important experiences in your real life and how you might be able to craft them into narratives.
  5. Engage your audience. Great storytelling requires you to connect with your audience, but much of how you captivate your audience depends upon the mode of storytelling you’re using. If you’re reading a short story in front of an audience, you might want to play around with bringing your gaze off the page every so often to make eye contact with your audience. If you’re recording a narrative podcast, so much depends upon the expressiveness of your voice and your ability to convey emotion with your tone. However you choose to tell your story, make sure to consider your audience.
  6. Observe good storytellers. Your personal stories will always be unique and specific to you, but there’s no better way to learn how to craft and deliver a narrative than by watching storytellers you admire relate their own stories. Most of us know people who we regard as eloquent and engaging storytellers. Whether it be a family member who regales you with childhood tales around the dinner table or a local politician who excels at public speaking, chances are you’ve come across more than a handful of talented storytellers in your life. Look for good storytellers and learn through observation. How do they craft a successful story?
  7. Narrow the scope of your story. If you’re telling a true story from your own life, it can be hard to choose the important main points that you should include. Many people have a tendency to include every detail and end up inundating their audience with facts that dilute the central story arc. Choose a clear beginning and end to your story, then write the key plot events as bullet points between them. Trust that your audience will be able to follow your story, and don’t overwhelm them with unnecessary backstory or tangential plot points.

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