Episode 51: How to Tell a Story
Today we look at the middle of our stories and learn how telling a story makes this stronger. Learn why you need to practice telling instead of writing to make your books better.
You can listen to the episode right here. The transcription is below the player. Feel free to add your comments using the comment section below.
Episode 51 Transcript
Note: Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and humans, as such, it may contain errors. Please, double-check the audio file before quoting anything from this page.
00:00 [JT Pledger] Good morning, kids! Today I want to tell you a story. In this story there will be a lot of laughs and a lot more sadness. It is important, though, as I teach you how to tell a story for yourself. We will learn about all the things to focus on and what things we can ignore. Stay tuned, I’ll be right back.
00:55 [JT] At their very core, every group of written words is a story. Humans have been telling stories long before we could write words or type on a keyboard. Passing tales and legends down from generation to generation, stories have always been a part of our lives.
01:17 Every story has a beginning, and for the most part, the beginning is easy. You want to set the scene, tell the listener what they need to know to visualize the story’s surroundings, introduce the characters and hook their interest.
Beginnings are Easy
01:36 In books, the beginnings are important as they tell the reader the kind of story they are settling in for. They let your audience know to be on guard for the unexpected, to get scared or to prepare to have tears running down their face.
01:55 Like a beginning, every story has an ending, too. The point when the story must stop no matter how much your audience begs you to keep it going. Endings can be abrupt, or they can be drawn out. A good ending wraps up the whole story in a nice little bow and some even leave you with questions that will be answered in your next story.
02:27 As writers these are the two areas we tend to worry about and work on the most. Sure, we develop the plot and build our characters. We also spend a great deal of time on the climax and the sub-plots.
You Can Forget How to Tell a Story
02:44 Most of us, though, forget we are telling a story. Instead of writing words today, I want you to focus on the story itself. What is it you are telling, why are you telling it, what meaning or bearing does it have on your audience?
03:10 When you write your books and novels, or when you sit to pen your screenplays, you spend all this time on the who and where and what’s going to happen followed by a tidy, here’s how it all ends up. We forget about the audience. We forget our readers need to stay involved and interested through the whole thing.
Get in Storytelling Mode
03:38 So for now, just for today, lets forget about word counts. Let’s stop worrying about what a good name for our main character is. We aren’t going to worry if the reader will mind it takes place in a dessert. No, today we are going to focus on telling the story itself.
04:06 Every writer is different, of course, and what works for one may not work for another. But when I am going to write a novel, the first thing I do is tell the story. What I mean is, I actually get up and tell the story, out loud, to whomever will listen. Sometimes I talk to an empty room and other times I have a friend listen in.
04:39 The point, though, is that I get in story telling mode. Sometimes I pretend I am standing over a campfire with my target audience gathered round. Other times I become boisterous and think I am wearing a toga and a pair of sandals speaking to my people like Socrates. The point is, I get in that frame of mind. The frame of mind that I am here to tell you a story and you are here to listen.
We aren’t Writing, We are Talking
05:14 There isn’t any writing going on, there isn’t any reading. It is me and my audience and I am here to tell them the story I have envisioned. You can do this, too. I suggest you do. It has many benefits to the overall process.
05:37 For the first thing, it gets all the meaningless dribble out of the way. You aren’t worried about how much change in in the cashier’s pocket. You find that you don’t say all the words that eventually make it to your paper. Instead, you just tell the story.
06:00 This is one of the reasons I like the podcast so much. I can forget about the gory details and nuances of the plot lines and just sit here and talk to you. You get to sit there an listen, and with some luck, you enjoy my story and don’t walk away.
Become an Actor
06:22 By acting out the story, or by getting up, walking around and telling your story out loud to a room full of imaginary engrossed people, you find out what your story is truly about. You learn how your mind wants the story to go, and most importantly, you focus on the middle of the story, instead of the beginning and ending.
06:54 Just like your book, your story will have a beginning and an end, but unlike your rough draft, your story will have a much meatier middle. The essence of your tale will emerge, and if you follow along, you will find out that the best part is yet to come.
Time to Get Up!
07:16 So let’s do it. Stop whatever else you are doing, think about your story and figure out the perfect setting for telling it to your audience. Are you writing a scary story? Perhaps you want to tell this story at night around a campfire. Maybe you are writing a romance and you want to tell the story to a bunch of couples all snuggled down.
07:41 Figure out who your target audience is, figure out the setting that makes the most sense, and get up out of your chair and picture yourself there. Walk around your home or your office or where ever you are and get in character. You are the narrator here, the audience has gathered to see you, to listen to you tell your tale.
08:13 Then, you just start talking. Tell your story. It doesn’t matter how you start it. You can say “Once upon a time,” or “It was a night, just like tonight,” or even “Call me Ishmael.” Just start telling the story. Get into it. Perform it. You are there to entertain the masses and they demand a show.
Make Magic Happen With Your Story
08:43 Don’t be Ferris Bueller’s teacher here. You don’t want to drone on. You want to be a Night at the Improv headliner; you’re the reason your audience showed up. Now you are on stage. It is time to come alive!
09:02 When I tell my stories, I get into it. I mean, I really get into it. I will walk around the entire house, I shout lines and I act out the scenes. I’ve yet to have the police called on me, so you should be safe. Just make sure to answer your door when the worried neighbor comes over. Assure them you are fine and ask if they want to hear a story.
09:29 This is where the magic happens! This is when you realize that your story is gold. When you get excited to tell the next part, or when you finally get to that middle frame where the shit is about to hit the fan, let me tell you, if you have never done this before, you may end up jumping on your couch or rolling over the bed.
Hear Me Now, Believe Me Later
09:54 When you are done, you will have a story worth telling. You will be able to see where the story falls apart and where it needs a little more work. Telling your story out loud is one of the most powerful things you can do to strengthen your book.
10:17 I know you may not believe me. But once you try it, you will see. Just like reading the drafts out loud will help you find problems you wouldn’t otherwise see, telling your story to a pretend audience will help you strengthen the soft middle that plagues a lot of writers.
10:39 You won’t have to worry about the unimportant things. You getting up and acting out your story, actually telling your story will make it stronger, more vivid and easier to write.
10:56 Go on and give it a try. Find the podcast transcript on extradraft.com and leave a comment about your experience telling your story. What did you learn, what did it help with? Let us know so we can all discuss it!
11:18 I will leave you with that project for your homework assignment this week, and as always, until next week, have fun; write words.