“Stories are the creatures that forage in the wilderness of our minds. Their claws pierce our curiosity, digging in deep to prevent our escape, as they force us into their maw, past razor sharp teeth of conflict.” —- Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys
“Tell me a story.” the woman said, book opened to a blank page on her lap, graphite stick firmly in hand and at the ready. The reading chair in which she sat was, what appeared to my eyes, nothing more than a series of interwoven vines that had grown from the lush green carpet in the center of the room. This indoor library of hers smelled of petrichor, the scent of rain on dry earth, which would explain the moisture that dotted the spines of the books stacked in chaotic fashion on the recessed shelves lining the walls.
“I — I don’t have any stories.” I shifted uncomfortably in a small puddle on the carpet—that was most assuredly grass—as the woman took in the sum of me.
“Nonsense, everyone has stories, some more interesting than others, but they are stories nonetheless.” she said, gesturing with a nod for me to sit. “Everything is present for a story to exist: a teller, that would be you, and an audience, which would be me.”
My seat—a normal metal folding chair with padding—was as much out of place with the room’s décor as I. A reminder, no doubt, that although invited, I was still considered an interloper. The fact that the chair was bone dry despite the moist surroundings was of small consolation. I squirmed until I found the position that afforded the least amount of discomfort and said, “All right, then… I don’t know how to tell a story.”
“Ah, a different matter altogether.” she said, placing the book and graphite aside. “The act of storytelling is as old as the creative spark that burns within us all. And though truly great storytellers are born, those lacking the unique gift may still acquire the skill.”
1. Keep it simple.
“The first thing to bear in mind is if you have the choice between a complicated or simple telling, choose the simple approach. As marvelous as the brain may be, it can become overwhelmed if it attempts to process too much information at one time.”
2. Open big.
“Next, you mustn’t be afraid to grab your audience by the balls!” the woman smiled, amused by my unease. “And never apologize for doing so. You’re familiar with the saying, ‘you only get one chance to make a first impression,’ aren’t you? The same applies to your story. You need to carefully craft your opening line to grab your audience’s attention immediately, and represent the promise of your story by displaying a unique voice and perspective.
“There is no going soft here. Your opening line should possess the elements that make up the story as a whole, told in a distinctive voice, a point of view, a rudimentary plot and some hint of characterization. By the end of the first paragraph, your audience should know the setting and conflict… unless there is a particular reason to withhold this information.”
3. Be mindful of your story’s spine.
“Stories are the creatures that forage in the wilderness of our minds. Their claws pierce our curiosity, digging in deep to prevent our escape, as they force us into their maw, past razor sharp teeth of conflict. But despite outward appearances, these beasts are only as strong as their spine.
“Your duty is to support that spine by arranging your content in a logical order and supporting it with anecdotes that raise questions to keep up interest and moments of reflection to show your story’s appeal. We, as the audience, need a reason to care.
“And lop off the vestigial appendages of tangents where you find them. Going too far astray will only lose your audience’s attention.”
4. Don’t alienate your audience.
“Some subjects require a delicate touch. You’ll know them by their appearance and the uneasy feeling they leave in your gut. By no means avoid them if they’re integral to your story, but instead find the best way to craft the tale so that you draw your audience in before revealing sensitive details. Invest them in the story before you shock them and then give them time to digest it.”
5. End strong.
“Whether you end your story on an upbeat note, allow your audience to fill in the blanks, come full circle with your lead, close with a relevant quote, provide a brief summary, or wrap things up with either a surprise or anecdotal ending… you need to come strong. Elevate your story’s effectiveness with a great ending and leave them with a lasting impression. The yang to your ‘first impression’ yin.
“You should also give your audience the proper space to appreciate your ending. A mere sentence or two in which you take a step back and let the story meaning steep in their mind.
And finally, allow your audience to hear the door click shut behind them, signifying that the story is well and truly over. Everything’s done and dusted. Thank you for visiting my world, now it’s time to return to your own.”
“Got all that?” she asked. I nodded that I understood.
“Good,” the woman rested the tip of the graphite stick on the book leaf, “now tell me a story.”
Sally forth and be writeful.
©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys