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The Gift of Telling a Story

10/13/2012

It was a dark and stormy night. Under the streetlamp stood a figure cloaked in darkness. The light from above reflected his silver eyes, making them shine with an etherial light. He stood watching the empty parking lot, waiting… waiting… waiting…

Whether you want to do a standup skit, write a novel, or just tell your friends what happened to you over the weekend, it is important to know how to tell a story. Telling a story is such a big part of our daily conversations, doing it in such a way that we communicate what we want is very important.

First things first – start before the beginning. Set the scene. Was it a dark and stormy night? More importantly: does it matter that it was a dark and stormy night? Only set the scene with important details. The dark and stormy night – I added it because its cliche and it sets a darker-than-night sort of creepy setting. It may be important that it’s stormy. This is where you grab your audience’s attention.

Before too long a large black car came roaring into the parking lot. The yellow lights of the lot shone of the dark windows, hiding the face of the driver. After pulling into a spot in the middle of the lot, a young man in his mid-thirties got out of the car, locked up, and started heading toward the building on the opposite side of the lot from the waiting man.

After setting the story – and that part shouldn’t take too long – you should start at the beginning of the story. Don’t just tell your audience what happened. Show them. The use of your words is very important, so choose them carefully. If you’re writing, don’t start two sentences in the same paragraph with the same word. Not only is that good grammar that your fifth grade teacher should have explained to you (mine did… at length) but it keeps the story going. It also helps to show your intelligence and your good vocabulary. This is where you start the plot of the story.

After stamping out his dead cigarette the waiting man started forward after the man from the car. He was smaller than the other man, but he moved faster with a lithe grace that denoted skill with movement. As he approached he called out, “Hey…”

It is important to keep the tension up. It doesn’t matter if you’re telling a horror story or telling a joke. Keep the audience’s interest, and tell them the important details. Not too much detail, mind you! Just tell them enough to keep them interested. Then… deliver the goods.

The man from the car turned around and smiled. “Hey, Ed! Glad to see ya! You walkin’ in to work, too?”

“Yeah, I just got here Mr. Sweeny.” Ed said. “The bus was early.”

“That sucks, man. But I can’t let you in for an hour. It’s too dangerous when the machines are all warming up,” Mr. Sweeny said.

And that’s when it started to rain. It was the start of a horrible day.

Please remember that when different people speak their dialogue needs to be placed in separate paragraphs. Also, if you’re writing, the paragraphs should be indented with no spaces in between, although that is the natural formatting of Microsoft Word and fanfiction and blogging sites. Word is naturally formatted for APA format and other professional papers, which have a different style of writing altogether. Of course, none of that matters if you are verbally telling the story.

Verbally, the story that I’m writing for you would not be apropriate, but the advice is still good. A verbal example would be:

Last Saturday I went to this awful bar. The people were all grouchy and it was way too loud and busy in there. The bathrooms were… ugh! So we go in and order our drinks, but I didn’t want to stay so I only ordered a Shirly Temple. Then, when we were drinking this divy guy came up to me and said, “Hey, baby, are you tired?” I said, “No,” so he said, “Really, because you’ve been running through my mind all day!” That’s when we got up and left.

No matter what forum you use to tell a story – be it written or verbal – choose an ending before you begin. Leave it off, but not too neatly. You want a bit of a cliffhanger. If you’re writing chapters a true cliffie will leave the readers coming back. At the very end of the story you need to end it, but not too neatly. If it’s too neatly you won’t leave your audience with anything to think about. The ending is also where you put the punch line of a comedy routine.

Then, when you put it all together you have the start of a potentially good story:

It was a dark and stormy night. Under the streetlamp stood a figure cloaked in darkness. The light from above reflected his silver eyes, making them shine with an etherial light. He stood watching the empty parking lot, waiting… waiting… waiting…

Before too long a large black car came roaring into the parking lot. The yellow lights of the lot shone of the dark windows, hiding the face of the driver. After pulling into a spot in the middle of the lot, a young man in his mid-thirties got out of the car, locked up, and started heading toward the building on the opposite side of the lot from the waiting man.

After stamping out his dead cigarette the waiting man started forward after the man from the car. He was smaller than the other man, but he moved faster with a lithe grace that denoted skill with movement. As he approached he called out, “Hey…”

The man from the car turned around and smiled. “Hey, Ed! Glad to see ya! You walkin’ in to work, too?”

“Yeah, I just got here Mr. Sweeny.” Ed said. “The bus was early.”

“That sucks, man. But I can’t let you in for an hour. It’s too dangerous when the machines are all warming up,” Mr. Sweeny said.

And that’s when it started to rain. It was the start of a horrible day.

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One Comment
  1. Poet Kaylynté permalink

    This is very useful. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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