There is no one way to answer such an absurdly vague question. Or is there?
You could ask twenty different people and you'd get twenty different responses. You could try segmenting a bit... Fiction versus nonfiction, reporter or editor's view on storytelling, versus a children's book author, or a teenager on the phone with friends. Telling stories is part of who we are as humans, and it differs from story to story, generation to generation.
But at the core, isn't storytelling the same beast across all platforms, formats, genres, audiences and motivations? Whether you're sharing true facts or fictional fairytales, a story is still a story, after all.
We're working on a whole section of "reading, redefined" topics for the Twistframe blog, but this particular post didn't originate from research or content creation on the business of writing, books or the publishing industry. Typically, that would be a fair and accurate assumption. Not this time. It is true; I've had storytelling on the brain for the past several months (more than ever), so my dot-connecting tendencies pulled this post together, but it came from a more personal place. This is important to note, because as I've already stated, storytelling is storytelling, no matter the venue.
Moving to a new city, launching a new company, meeting new people... Life changes push people to seek new friendships, or at the very least, interact more meaningfully with strangers. Meaningfully, mostly in the sense that, when you're in a new place, you pay more attention to what's being said around you, to you, or at you, as often the case may be. I've held conversations with a whole new gamut of individuals recently, and I'm here to report -- storytelling suffers sometimes.
I don't expect every Jane, Dick and Sally to be the next Dr. Seuss or EL James. But if everyone can (and should) tell stories, let's make them better, shall we? We all have interesting things to say, but when we put them together as long, winding, pointless pieces of poorly constructed explanation, or provide little to no justification for telling said story by its end... We're doing ourselves and our audiences a disservice.
Why are you telling me this? What does it have to do with me? Your point is...? Sometimes storytellers, in the not-getting-paid-to-tell-stories realm, leave out crucial tidbits, or include way too many. They presume every personal anecdote is worthwhile. They neglect to take hints when their audience gets lost. I'm guilty, too, on occasion, so instead of pointing fingers, let's solve problems.
Storytelling isn't just for professional writers like reporters, authors and movie makers. It's part of our everyday human life. Being a bad writer isn't an excuse, because telling stories happens off the page just as much as on it. Stop languishing in mediocrity already - this affects us all! With that in mind, I'd like to generalize a few criteria - tips, if you will - for the masses.
Here are seven things that make a good story, whatever story you're telling, wherever and however you're telling it. They are followed by questions you can expect your audience to ask otherwise. Tell great stories and they won't have to ask.
1) Relate -- the story to your audience, up front, at the end and everywhere in between. "What does this have to do with me?"
2) Summarize -- key players, places, times and themes. Give your audience a chance to decline the full story if it's not up their alley, and don't be offended. "What's the gist?"
3) Have a point -- a moral, a joke or some good reason for telling the story. Otherwise, let's be honest, it's not a story, it's a reason to hear yourself speak outloud. "What is the point?"
4) Have a conclusion -- that explains, in brief, what happened. "What does it mean?"
5) Stay on track -- or at least note when you digress. Weed out which sidenotes matter and which details aren't worthwhile for effectively telling your story. "Wait, what?"
6) Don't expect too much -- if your audience isn't familiar with all the background, you should be prepared to explain further as needed. People, places, proper nouns, acronyms, lingo and slang can kill a great story if your audience doesn't know what you're talking about. "What are you talking about?"
7) Be entertaining -- or funny, informative, heartwarming, sad... something! Stories move people. They explain things. That's powerful! Use it! "Why are you telling me this?"
My list is far from comprehensive and maybe you disagree, so please -- add, argue and rebut at will below.