Have you ever wondered what to include in your story and what to cut out?
I know I have!
As a kid, I was constantly called out for being “random”…not filtering myself when odd thoughts came to mind.
Sure, it was funny… at times…and got me attention…
But…this was a 2-edged sword.
I’d feel like I could state my mind, but I wasn’t being very considerate of the people around me. As a result, people didn’t listen to everything I said, including my stories…that dragged on and on and on!
When I was 20, I interned at the Seattle Children’s Theatre in Washington State. I had a chance to work with a fantastic improv teacher and we co-directed/produced an improv show with 15 hilarious & sometimes random teenager girls.
This improv teacher summarized how to tell a story by helping the girls to focus on the driving structure and details of a scene so that they could get used to making up stories as they went along in an improv scene.
So, I’m going to share those with you today, that also apply to how you tell your planned stories!
DETAIL 1- Relationship
Who are the characters in your story?
- Who’s the story about?
- How do the characters know each other?
- How do they typically interact?
- Did they just meet and are using basic civility and social norms to interact….or have they known each other forever?
Then add details that SHOW this, rather than just telling the listener in a long report.
DETAIL 2- Where
Where does this story take place? The post office? The beach? Your childhood living room?
Don’t assume the listener knows. In most cases, you need to add in this detail early on to help give context to your story.
DETAIL 3- Routine
Establish the normal way the characters in your story interact.
- Give the baseline daily life for the world the characters live in.
- You can address their emotional state, the main character’s hopes and dreams, what they struggle with on a daily basis…etc.
The point is to set up the story with details that help the listener to understand the main character’s perspective.
DETAIL 4- Reveal
This is the part in the story where things take off! You MUST reveal a change…a challenge…an inciting incident that has the potential to disrupt or change the main character’s world forever. (The higher the stakes, the more gripping the story. The more basic the issue/incident, the more you need to explain the emotional peril your character is facing to keep the audience interested.)
If there is no inciting incident….reconsider telling the story.
DETAIL 5- Resolve
There needs to be a clear resolve to your story. Prior to the “resolve” you can have twists and turns but eventually, the MAIN ISSUE that you started with (or it evolved into through further challenges after the reveal) NEEDS TO BE RESOLVED. It doesn’t mean that the problem has to be fixed. It just means that the main character has to arrive at a conclusion —whether to accept their new world as it is, change it, or change themselves (popular options).
So, for example, if the story was about daughter reveal to her mother (main character) that she was not going to college in order to pursue her dream of becoming a circus performer, then the mother has to arrive at a resolve/ wrap up to the story. You need to finish the mom’s journey. The mother could do many things, including
1) accept that her daughter is meant to be a circus performer, OR
2) convinces her daughter NOT to become a circus performer, OR
3) Changes the acceptance of circus performers in society & get’s a reality TV show for her ability to change the world’s respect level for circus performers–and hence resolving an inner concern for her daughter’s success.
4) She never speaks to her daughter again.
Then there are many other variations or other ways to resolve this issue, depending on what the main character wants. So, don’t feel like you have to have a “warm & fuzzy ending” to have a resolve.
So, in summary, you should add these 5 details to your story, then build out from there to make it more juicy…always supporting the main structural details so that your story continues to push forward.
Don’t be random.
Being able to tell a great story will serve you well in the future. Here’s a quote to remember why stories are a great tool in public speaking!
“The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.”
– May Catherine Bateson
EXTRA RESOURCES to Check Out:
Rehearsal Feedback Toolkit– Get and Give Insanely Helpful Feedback before you ever tell your story to a crowd of anxious listeners!