Two Rules for Storytelling

Working principles.

A story, whether it is screenplay, novel or something I am whispering in your ear should satisfy one or both of the following conditions. They are listed in order of importance.

1)    The story should entertain/titillate/engage the reader/listener/viewer.

2)    The story should teach/inform/educate the reader/listener/viewer.

I am sure I have stolen this almost directly from someone but since I cannot remember who I have decided to accept my unintentional theft and move forward.

So in my world the most important question to ask is – is this boring? Because despite the fact that your story is loaded with pearls of wisdom that could change the life of every person on the planet, no one is going to get past page one. Because it is boring.

For a very long time I took issue with this approach to storytelling. Why? Because people should have the wisdom, the fortitude and the decency to struggle through the boring bits to get to the genius that is this story. You, the writer, have devoted tremendous amounts of time and energy to telling this story – is it too much to ask that the audience meets you halfway? That they put a little effort in?

You bet.

How did I come to think this? I started sharing my writing friends and family. I soon discovered that many of them did not even bother to finish ten page stories. My loved ones! Those that did offered up the kiss of death – “I liked it.” No further comment beyond that phrase.

That is where I learned a very valuable lesson. If you can’t get your best buddy or your own sister to wade through your story, you will never get a complete stranger to do so either.

Sadly the drawback of storytelling is that is takes time. A good story needs time to unfold, to envelop and sway an audience. Unlike a photograph or a painting, a story asks for something more than the attention of the audience. It asks for time.

Which takes us back to rule number one – don’t be boring. If you are going to take up a person’s time have the courtesy to keep them interested. As a storyteller you are fighting for those minutes or hours needed to tell the story and the best way to get them is by entertaining your audience. If you are lucky or very talented you might be able to work in more than murder and mayhem, but if you can’t do that at least let the audience walk away feeling properly sated.

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