Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Telling a Story

How you tell a story is almost as important as the content. This is immediately apparent if a story is read aloud. I've heard it said that certain people could read the yellow pages out loud and have their audience in stitches.

Perhaps I could have made this post more interesting by beginning with: "Why can some people can read the yellow pages and entertain their audience? In this blog, I will reveal the secret to telling a great story."

Almost everybody always wants to know a secret or how to entertain an audience. Yes - that's it - a mystery!

Or perhaps, I could have begun more bluntly: "If you want to be a more effective story-teller/writer, then read this blog to learn how."

A good rule is to choose and use action verbs. "Is" just can't compete with "can" or "entertain" or "reveal"; or "want" and "read."

Writers can't use facial expressions or eye contact to engage their audience, so they have to use effective images. So, maybe I could have written: "Are you sitting alone at your computer night after night wishing for a larger audience? What you need is THE LAST DRAFT, the all new blog that punches up your writing to grab and hold your readers' attention!"

Ahhh.... If only it were true.... Okay, so exaggeration only works for advertising...

But, this I know to be true - use your own unique voice. Write like you would talk - except use action verbs and effective imagery. Create characters that speak authentically by writing from your own experiences. The more experiences you have, the more material you have to tap into. Or, observe others and write down their quirks and oddities, or interesting turns of phrase or vocabulary use.

And, don't be afraid to experiment. Write different paragraphs or sections that cover the same action, and then find someone who will read them and tell you what they liked best. Or, trap someone into listening to you read your different versions. You can get a live reaction. Spouses and children come in really handy for this.

Audience input is what helped shape classics such as the Odyssey and Beowulf. These stories developed as performers sang the tales and adapted or changed or remembered them differently over time. Some scholars even debate that Shakespeare may have been a group of writers under the direction of the Duke of Oxford, and that the plays were written and performed, then re-written and performed. And then you have the example of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who read portions of their stories to their writer's group for reaction and criticism. That must have been some group!

That said, I am grateful to be a part of this writers' group!


  1. So true!

    Ahhh, the benefit of a good writers group. :)

    We should try the "read aloud" thing.

  2. Some groups do read aloud, but you have to be careful. It is possible to mask problems in the written text by using voice inflections that won't be there when the reader is just reading. If they are read, they should be read by someone who is not the author. Another option is to read aloud in a monotone. This prevents the author from adding what wasn't written into the text.

  3. I know your right Beth, BUT how boring is reading in monotone? It's like holding the most fragrant boutique of flowers without being able to smell them.