“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”
“If you want to motivate people, tell stories. If you want to instruct people, tell stories. Human beings are storytelling machines. As they say in sales, facts tell, stories sell. Why did God create so many people? Because He loves stories.”
Dr. Rob Gilbert
You’d have to travel far to find a more devoted storyteller than my friend and mentor, Rob Gilbert. He regales his listeners with tales all the time on his wonderful Success Hotline (973.743.4690) and I love hearing them. They’re always punchy and inspiring.
As Rob says, “A story is something you can tell in the present about something that happened in the past that will be remembered in the future….There’s no great story without a big problem.” He recently offered tips for powering up our storytelling skills in everyday conversations, which can also apply to stories we tell on the page:
Keep it short: “It’s sort of like a punch. You want the story to be as short as possible. You don’t want extraneous words. You have to edit them. You have to practice them.”
Set it up: Most stories have two parts — narrative and dialogue. When recounting the facts of the story, keep it unemotional, as if you’re reporting the news. Save the emotion for the dialogue — that’s where you become an actor and ham it up.
Listen and learn: Someone once asked the legendary Stephen Sondheim, “How can you be so creative?” His answer? “I listen.” Stories are all around us. The best way to become a better storyteller is to listen to other people’s stories. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, and if you listen enough, “you’ll develop a great storytelling accent.” There are tons of stories on the internet. If you watch them over and over, you’ll begin to see how great storytellers use pauses, inflection, and dialogue to make their stories more exciting and memorable. Go to YouTube and check out Earl Nightingale’s “Acres of Diamonds” (the long version) or Jack Canfield’s “Bobsie the Fireman” from Chicken Soup for the Soul.
Listening to well-told stories is a great way to improve our storytelling on the page; so is reading our own writing aloud. As William Zinsser said so well, “People read with their ears.” Bravo, Rob — tell on! Inspired and energized, let’s all write on!