Updated: Jul 10
We all live our lives in a series of short stories that we share with people we come in contact with nearly every single day. We retell the stories we hear from others to communicate with people, teach lessons, entertain, and relate to one another. While swapping stories is so commonplace and known to be effective, the dynamics of what makes a story compelling is lesser known and understood. This blog explores several key dynamics that reoccur in almost any story that you hear, read, see, or talk about.
Start with Self-Awareness
A key dynamic that is required for every good storyteller to learn is the ability to be self-aware. You must be able to dig deep and draw from your personal experiences and life lessons. The most powerful stories are often the ones with the most truth and authenticity in the characters, challenges, and scenarios. Try to draw from your past and recall those moments in time that have stuck with you and helped to shape you into the person that you have become. Once you have recalled those events, bring your audience along on the same journey of self-discovery that you went on. Walk them through the emotions that you felt during those times and help them to understand the impact of the lesson that you learned.
Create Dynamic Characters
A great story needs great characters; in order to draw your audience in, you must create characters that they can identify with and that are complex. Typically, the hero of the story is the person that most in the audience will identify with and the villain is the most complex. Secondary characters, such as a best friend or a mentor, help to bring clarity to the hero throughout the story. You should start developing your characters early on so that the audience can quickly begin to understand the background and context of the story. Again, if you pull from real life experiences that can help to create genuine, authentic characters that your audience can relate to.
Stack the Odds
Every compelling story includes a struggle that must be overcome either by a hero or a group of heroes. A complex story may have a series of obstacles that arise where the hero character is forced to seek out help or advice from others. As you write, identify which struggles your hero will face in your story and reflect on the emotions that the character must cope with at that time. The higher the odds are stacked against your hero, the more relief and satisfaction your audience will experience when the challenges have been overcome.
Convey a Simple Message
While characters and story lines can be complex, always try to keep the message you are trying to convey throughout the story simple. You could create an action-packed piece of work, but if your audience finishes reading and moves on without understanding the main point then the chances are you will not have created a compelling story. Before you begin to write, determine the main idea of behind the story that you are writing and check back often to ensure you are being consistent with your theme. Sometimes in the process of writing the story will evolve and the main message may shift somewhat, but as long as you continue reflect those changes in the message then your audience will be able to follow along and walk away with a clear knowledge of what they read and what you were trying to convey.
A compelling story is one that invokes action from its readers. Great stories draw from reality and as such should be applicable to your readers’ lives. When writing about a heartwarming topic you may inspire readers to be kind to one another or when sharing a story about a basketball coach you may inspire your readers to get involved with sports. Whatever you choose to write about, take advantage of the opportunity that you have at the end of a story to inspire positive action.
Final Thoughts: How do You Use Storytelling?
Storytelling is a powerful tool and has been used throughout generations to convey ideas, conserve traditions, and inspire action. As you write, look back at some of the stories that have inspired you and examine the ways in which you identified with those stories. You should be able to pick out powerful themes and be able to start to writing stories that reflect those same themes. Be honest and authentic so that you can create works that many people can relate to.