How do you tell a story?
It may feel like a daunting and complicated task, but actually we tell stories all of the time. At the end of my day I share what happened with my partner - I tell the story of my day: it really is that simple. It’s only because he knows the world I live in, and the characters I’m talking about, that I don’t have to go into great depths to describe them. I would, however, describe everything differently if I was talking about my day to someone who didn’t know me: I would need to use better storytelling skills.
So to tell a good story, bear the following in mind:
Know your audience: who are you going to be telling your story to? Think of a storyteller at a village fair - they wouldn’t sit in front of a bunch of five year-olds and tell them about the history of the Mosquito combat aircraft.
In West Africa, family histories and local stories are passed down from generation to generation through song, accompanied by an instrument called a Cora. Cora players travel from door to door, they ask the family name and then sing about their history - sharing humorous information that is only relevant to that particular family.
The cora player keeps them interested because the listeners care about the story. So how do you make readers care about your story? You need to:
Set the scene: engage their senses. Is your story set somewhere exotic? At home? In a bakery? All three scenarios have vastly different smells, sights and sounds attached to them which need to be described in a way that will immerse your reader in the setting.
Create credible characters: your reader needs to believe that a certain character would really behave that way.
Chronology: where is your story going to start? Right in the middle of the action - or at some other point? Wherever it starts, it needs to engage the reader and give them a reason to want to find out what happens.
Create tension and conflict: put your characters in difficult situations. Tension is the greatest way to get a reader to keep turning the pages. Put questions in the reader’s mind: how are they going to get out of that? What about? How will? What if?
There must be an end: unless the story is part of a series, the questions asked and tension created must be resolved by the end of the book.
Enjoy writing it: this is probably the most important part. Enjoy creating, dreaming and crafting your story.
As Maya Angelou once said: I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
By Sarah Tyley