The Art Of Storytelling

Many years ago I wrote a story about meatloaf for two reasons. The first reason is because I was trying to win a free Kindle (I’ve never bought one to this day). The second reason is because I’d recently had an adventure that involved meatloaf, it was fresh in my mind and I decided to go for it; timing is everything. 🙂

me giving a seminar;
phones didn’t take great pictures back then

Unfortunately I didn’t win; I don’t think I even placed. I did get one critique on the story, though. The guy said he liked the story and laughed at it, but that I used the word “I” too many times and that if I’d tightened that up then the story might have been stronger.

Let’s talk about storytelling for a moment, if I may. Going back even further, I wrote a series on book writing, and one of those lessons was about the art of telling a story. People love stories (heck, I love stories!), and the better you can tell your story, the more people love to hear it. My dad loved telling stories, and I think I got that from him.

If you’re telling a story in general, it’s often recommended that you try not to use one or two words over and over. For instance, if you’re writing fiction and your story’s main character is Henry, you shouldn’t always be writing “Henry said” or “Henry thought” or something like that all the time. The idea is to weave Henry’s name in there every once in a while to make sure everyone knows when it’s Henry or someone else, but otherwise try to make your story flow better by not stopping on every sentence by saying “Henry”.

That explains writing fictional stories; what if you’re telling your own tale? Suddenly the rules change, at least in my mind. It’s would sound silly if you were trying to convey your thoughts and you said “there was this thought that” or “Johnny wondered” if your name was Johnny.

If you’re telling your story, one would expect you to use “I” most of the time if you’re in it. For instance, I was the main protagonist in writing my story on The Keys. How else would I have told that story without the word “I”? If it was fictionalized maybe one finds a different way, but if I, or you, are telling our own story, how ridiculous would it be without “I”?

There is an art to storytelling, though. Beginning, middle, end; that’s the script, just like the script for most songs follows a 1-4-1-4-5-4-1 chord progression (that’s going to keep you thinking for a while lol). We want to be introduced to our hero, so to speak, early on, and then we want to see what happens to that character, and then we want to see how it’s resolved.

Stories can be short or long; in essence, they are what they are. Stories need to follow a progression; not everyone likes stories that suddenly go back in history, or take sidebars that don’t seem to have anything to do with the story (although the movie Pulp Fiction did that; I hated it the first time I saw it, but figured it out when I saw it again 10 years later).

We want the stories we’re going to consume direct, in order, fleshed out as much as needed, and then concluded in a way that makes us feel something; happy, upset, or even laughing. If it’s your story, we want to know how you felt, what you thought, and if you have to use “I” often, then so be it.

Of course, I could be wrong on this, but I doubt it. As I was reading Traci Lords book Underneath It All (don’t judge me lol), I was struck by this thought; how could she have told her story otherwise without the frequent use of the word “I”? She couldn’t; that’s the point. If you need to use it, use it as long as it’s about you.

If it’s not about you, or you’re telling a story about someone or something else, then there shouldn’t be an issue with that word, but you need to be careful in looking at the words you do use to see if maybe there’s another choice every once in a while. By the way, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a written or verbal story; the same rules apply.

15 thoughts on “The Art Of Storytelling”

  1. Hey
    Storytelling is such a powerful tool for connecting with others and creating meaningful content. The reminder to be authentic and vulnerable is especially important – people can tell when you’re not being genuine. I’ll be keeping these principles in mind as I continue to work on my own storytelling skills – thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Rule #2, don’t pay attention to the critics, unless it’s your editor. LOL

    Story-telling is very much a personal eneavor. You find your fans when you find people who LIKE the way you tell stories.



  3. Seems obvious, but you make some really good points. It helps to vary sentence length, too. If you have to use “I” a lot – if the story isn’t about your interactions with others – try to work in descriptions that appeal to all the senses. Make sure it’s not just inner rumination, but that there’s some movement to the story. Some action. The point of not repeating names, pronouns, or other words is simply to keep from lulling the reader into a stupor. That’s never a sign of good storytelling! But a story told really well MIGHT make a reader not notice the repetition. I wouldn’t gamble on it often, but you might get by with it now and then. We could all learn a lot, I think, by reading autobiographies.

    1. Even most autobiographies have editors. 🙂 With that said, those will definitely be good to learn how to tell stories. I think most people know how to tell oral stories, but when it comes to writing, often everything seems stilted. The idea is to try not to feel rushed or try adding too many things that take one off their story. I know a few people who start a story, go off in multiple directions, and have to stop to remember which story they were telling. lol

      1. Oh, that is SO true. But then, those folks will never get an autobiography published.

        One thing that drives me nuts with oral stories is how people get so stuck on names from the past, when telling stories to people who weren’t born then and don’t know or care about the characters enough to give a hoot what their NAMES were. Call them Bob and Sarah and get to the juicy bits, if you can’t remember – so long as you’re not talking about famous people and names aren’t the point.

        I do go off on tangents, sometimes – even forget the main story I was telling (LOL at that!!). But if I do it in WRITING? That’s a major problem.

        We all have stories we tell over and over. (We should write them down, publish them, and shut up, I think.) My son loves to look at me when I do it and quietly say a number. “Seven.”


        “This is the seventh time you’ve told me this.”

        “OK, how does it end?” If he can answer that, I apologize and slink off to read a book. If he can’t, though, he clearly wasn’t really listening the first six times, so he can just sit through it one more time.

      2. LOL! I wonder what the percentage is between you and your son.

        I think I’ve written lots of stories on this blog over the years. Sometimes I incorporate a story into a regular article, like I recently did talking about poker tournaments and blogging, and years ago comparing blogging to being in airports. At least I have fun doing it. 😉

  4. The analogy with song writing is brilliant. My personal opinion is that not everybody can do a storytelling. Well, probably everybody can do it, but some people are just exceptional storytellers that can engage any audience.

    1. I’ve heard some great stories and some that are “meh”. It helps to establish a premise for the story, then stay as chronological as possible, unless breaking things up is the intention. Think about Alice’s Restaurant; what makes it great is that it can go back and forth and still be entertaining.

  5. Been meaning to comment for days. Storytelling is one of the most critical skills a person can call upon.

    It’s how we communicate thoughts and ideas and the ability to inform, educate and or entertain while storytelling is huge.

    Some might even call it critical.

    1. Good stuff Josh. I love hearing well told stories, and I like to consider myself as being pretty good telling one. That’s why I like reading your blog; every post is multiple short stories.

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