"Once Upon A Time ..." The Importance Of Storytelling
September 15, 2015
The better you tell a story, the better your chances of being heard and remembered.
As humans we are hard wired to notice stories. Storytelling is built into our DNA. It goes back through all stages of human history starting with cave dwellers. We're all aware of the graffiti on the walls of their caves with stories that elders would recount to those in their tribe. It was through these stories that tribes learned about their history as well as the dangers that surrounded them. When archeologists uncovered the ancient ruins of Egypt, they found paintings on the walls of the pyramids detailing key moments of Egyptian history. We know much about the Egyptians during that time by the stories they left on the walls. As children we heard stories from our parents and read fairy tales; stories with important morals that shaped the way we think and behave. Storytelling is a universal feature of every country and every culture. Stories are everywhere.
Stories exist to communicate information. In particular, stories exist to communicate complicated information. Storytelling goes deep into the core of who we are and it's central to our way of communicating with one another.
Stories are powerful because…
- They give meaning and context to what would otherwise be a collection of easy to forget facts.
- They invoke our imagination; we begin to own the story as much as the person telling the story.
- They create shared experiences. Experiences that leave lasting impressions with us.
- They have the power to evoke emotions and win a place in our hearts rather than in our heads.
- They are the emotional glue that connects us to one another.
Your stories -- and how you tell them -- impact the way you connect with everyone in your life. For radio, great stories told by great storytellers is a fundamental for success. Stories are something that you and your audience can/will bond over.
When preparing stories what are some of the most crucial areas overlooked? In my experience working with radio broadcasters and TV hosts there are four areas that are not considerws thoroughly enough:
- Main characters
When these four areas are well constructed and understood by the storyteller, the effectiveness of the story increases significantly.
(1) A Simple Structure
A basic story has 3 parts. A beginning, a middle and an end. No surprise there. You probably already knew that. The point is that stories have to flow in a logical manner because our minds are linear and process information best in a sequential order. Understanding basic story structure is important because despite its apparent simplicity, the truth of this story structure is the same truth for all stories -- even the ones that appear much more complex. All great stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. All great stories have a singular focus. Complex stories have secondary characters and plot twists but the fundamental role of these tools is to still support the central theme. They are there to reinforce -- or introduce -- other aspects of the main theme of the story.
Here's how to consider breaking down the Beginning, Middle and End of your story…
- Craft the beginning to shine a light on your challenge or problem.
- Shape the middle around the struggle to meet the challenge.
- End with a resolution that stimulates your audience.
(2) The Protagonist & the Antagonist
The basics of every story involves someone who is trying to do something (the protagonist) and someone who tries to keep them from doing it (the antagonist). Every story needs to be built around these fundamentals. The protagonist is the main character of the story; the focal point of the story. Protagonists mostly have the sympathy of the audience who want to see or learn about their victory over the antagonist. It's important to remember that the protagonist is typically a human being whereas an antagonist can also be a circumstance or a natural calamity.
- In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker is the protagonist -- a farm boy in desperate pursuit of a different life - Darth Vader is the antagonist that places obstacles in his way.
- In Romeo & Juliet, both are the protagonists. Their conflict is with their families (the antagonists) who don't approve of their love.
- In the Hunger Games, Katniss is the protagonist. She must enter the games and fight. The Capital and those who control the elements that make up the game are Katniss' antagonist.
(3) Intent Is Crucial
No story will work if the protagonist is passive. The protagonist must have a mission. The main character needs to have a crusade; a journey to take. When crafting a story you need to focus on the intent of the main character. The intent is your story's why? Why is the character doing what they are? Why is it important to them? Understanding the main character's true motivation and how it connects to the audience is what really draws people into a story. This is the truly valuable information of any story as it helps us learn about the character's deepest desires and values.
(4) No Conflict, No Story
Without conflict, you don't have a story. Stories can only occur around conflict. Something must be at risk. Character is revealed through conflict as people reveal their true selves under pressure. You need to provide the audience a reason to root for the main character. What will happen if they don't succeed? Without conflict you simply have an observation or a thought, but not a story that will evoke your audience emotionally. Entertainment arises out of conflict.
There are many forms of conflict… Person vs Nature, Person vs People, Person vs Society, Person vs Fate and even the internal conflict of Person Vs Self.
In the movie Rocky, the conflict isn't a physical one between Rocky & Apollo Creed. It is about a washed up outsider who has to overcome his own doubts to prove to himself that he can 'go the distance.' It's an internal conflict that he has to face.
By improving your focus on those four areas you can help significantly improve the 'stickiness' of your story. Without these four areas being apparent to your audience you story has little chance of connecting on a deep emotional level.
As part of your preparation you should ensure you are able to answer these questions:
- What is this story about? (the singular focus)
- Who is the protagonist? (the main character)
- Who/what is the antagonist? (someone/something standing in their way)
- What is the protagonist trying to achieve? (the intent. the mission)
- Where is the conflict coming from? (the risk)
- How will the story end? (everything that happens helps build to the resolution)
Great stories have the power to make us 'feel.' You can transport your audience to new places in their minds. You can make them feel as if they are living the story you are telling. There's scientific proof that as humans we are more stimulated by story than we are information; the brain lights up -- firing more neurons -- when stories are told. We have an inbuilt desire to share stories with one another. The better the stories you tell, the better your connection with people. Telling compelling stories is paramount if you want to build a strong connection with an audience.