How to pick and tell great stories that really matter


Why do we want to tell stories? We want to tell stories because we want others to see what we see. To do this, we entertain, educate, persuade, motivate and ultimately we change our audience’s belief to become one with what we see as universal truths.

Find the story that really matters

When we tell a great story, we help comprehend complex subject matter, we make lasting impressions of ideas, and we bring larger groups into the fold. A good story should not be endless, random or confusing. It has to have a clear storyline. The clear storyline tames the complexity of the story and minimizes the confusion. That is why structure in storytelling is important. In a great story, its storyline would inspire a new belief or way of looking at the world. That is why dramas are typically great stories. A good drama makes us feel someone’s struggle. It would make us feel the struggle as our own. The storyline would take us through heartbreak and then mends it all towards the end, to change our own beliefs about the struggle the protagonist goes through. It is that changed state with new beliefs that delivers value to the audience. Different genres might take different paths along the storyline to get the audience to a changed belief system. No matter what the genre, your story should matter to your audience and leave them with a changed state of positive beliefs at the end. The degree of the positive change in the audience is what defines the greatness of the story.

We have only four ways in which we can move our audience to a changed state. 1. We can change the audience by providing them with additional information about a subject. We can introduce them to a new subject or add to the information they already have about a subject. 2. We can change the audience by helping them gain knowledge or ability, by showing them how to do something useful. 3. We can persuade the audience to do, use, try or buy something new by changing their action. 4. Finally, we can inspire them to understand something new about themselves and the world to change their own beliefs.

We can tell a story by choosing from any number of storylines we have to choose from. Before we decide on the storyline of the story we pick, we need to know what changed state do we want our audience to be in, after they have heard/watched our story unfold. The change we want our audience to experience will determine which storyline we should choose to tell our story. Typically, every storyline will have an Act 1 that is a setup for the story, Act 2 is the spine, and Act 3 is the resolution. Act 1 typically has an inciting incident that poses an overarching profound problem to be resolved. Act 2 adds anecdotes to provide additional detail and color to the problem posed from Act 1. Act 3 provides a resolution of the problem with a spin that might shock the audience to a new state of beliefs.

In a great story that is told right, the storyteller may incorporate multiple storylines to attain all four changed states in the audience with an optimum major storyline that makes for the emotional engagement and a significantly positive changed state for the audience. These are the stories that really matter. So for a story to really matter, they have to be chosen right, and told right as well. So how do we tell the story right to make it compelling?

Tell the story with honesty

When we tell the truth, we connect with our audience due to the earned trust, we become passionate, and we find self-confidence. If we can be honest with our storytelling, we will be able to establish trust and connection with the audience, and in turn we become even more passionate and confident about our story. There is no faster way to establish trust with the audience than to tell the truth to them. On the contrary, you could lose your audience with the slightest inclusion of anything that is not true. We have three kinds of truth. Truths that make our head say, “I think this is true.’ This is the intellectual truth. Truths that make our heart say, “I believe this is true.” This is the emotional truth.” Truths that with data provided make us say, “The facts tell me that this is true.” This is the factual truth. All three truths are valid and stay with us always. However, not all three of the truths are considered equal in stature. Things that we believe in our heart are true, outrank things that we know in our head is true. And both, our heart and head, outrank the facts from data provided. An acceptable story might share new information (data) about something. A good story changes what we know in our head. But for a great story would have to change what the audience believes in their heart as truth, and that requires earned trust with all three kinds of truths in our storytelling.

However it is critical to know your target audience first. Depending on the demographic you choose, you then decide which kind of truth (the ones with just facts, the ones which reaches the mind, and/or the ones that reach the heart) you should tell that audience. Every storyteller starts with an idea, the storyteller’s perception of truth and the targeted audience’s perception of truth. Your idea would include thoughts, impressions, data, anecdotes, feelings, concerns, etc. You use them to derive what you really want to convey. You as the storyteller would include your goals, hopes, worries, fears, beliefs, insights, etc. You use them to derive what you want your audience to think about you. The audience will include its own experiences, abilities, skills, hidden agenda, aspirations, demographic characteristics, unknowns, etc. You incorporate your understanding of the audience to derive the ultimate goal as storyteller - if the story could change them in just one aspect, what that change might be.

Arriving at the truths about first two attributes (your idea and yourself as a storyteller) is reachable. However the trick is in arriving at the truths about your targeted audience. Here are some universal cautions about your audience:

  1. Don’t dictate to your audience what they should be doing. Help them think it’s their idea – or be close enough that they wish they’d thought about it.

  2. As much as we want to help our audiences feel personally engaged and know that it’s all about them, we want even more to help them change their perspective.

  3. We have no point in telling a story if we cannot ultimately in some way change our audience. Even if it is just a subtle change.

Equipped with the truths you are ready to tell the story.

Tell the story with compelling visuals

When we use pictures, people see exactly what we mean, we captivate our audience's mind, and we get rid of their boredom. Since our brain is more dedicated to vision and visual processing, than any other thing we do, lead the audience through their eyes and their mind will follow. Even if our eyes are shut, we make up imaginary stuff in our brains for our “mind’s eye” to visualize. And then, what about the dreams we see when we are asleep. Our visual mind actually never sleeps. So, it is clear now as to why motion pictures are so amusing to human beings. It feeds our visual brains with rich stimuli to process and make inferences for ourselves. No wonder, storytellers are always advised to show it in their storytelling, rather than tell it.

The ideal picture that tell stories are simple as a sentence. These pictures must enter our eyes, and move the story forward with honesty, and without calling too much attention to it. Complicating the motion picture with too much technical wizardry could distract the audience from the story being told. The ideal picture is just the essence of the story made instantly visible, and nothing more. In a motion picture, you pull together all of the story elements, the premise, the theme, the characters, the dialogues, the symbols, the plot, the scenes, etc., through the three act structure, and take the engaged audience through a transformational journey. And if done right, we will leave them profoundly changed at the end. These are the right stories, that are told right. Such are the stories that really matter!

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