I am a passionate story teller.
As I reflect on my journey in creating meaningful narratives There are 3 elements that I think of immediately that have become essential elements in how I deliver a story.
There are many elements that others may hold as important to their craft, even other elements that may be technically eminent, and even other elements that I could mention that I deem important too, but these are my personal top 3.
1. The Story needs to be Personally Meaningful
2. The Story should be well told
3. The Story is a catalyst for change
The Story needs to be Personally Meaningful.
Throughout my Primary school years, my younger brother and I shared our bedroom. One of my fondest memories growing up is of lying awake at night in our bunks while I told stories for Russell to help him sleep. Sometimes he was fearful of something, simply restless, or just keen for an imaginative story to finish the day. Fantasy and dramatic stories of friends and brothers facing fears, struggling through epics, discovering new worlds, meeting wonderful personalities, talking creatures, adventuring together, filled our pre-sleep nights. The hero was sometimes Russell. Often a challenge was conquered by the champions called “Russell” and “Shane” working it out together.
My childhood story telling not only set a tone for our brotherly mateship - that still resonates today – it developed my story telling ability. Interestingly at its basic level this meant that for our stories were personally meaningful because we were always part of the narrative somehow. In my simple terms as a child, this meant using our own names. No matter how fanciful the environment or situation crafted in those early tellings, it pertained to things that we were wrestling with. Being personally meaningful meant that the story was accessible, relatable, relevant, and pleasing. I have learnt that people connect with other people, so I make sure I focus my story telling on characters that emulate real life. The point is that the stories that pack the most punch are ones that have an innate, almost incarnate persona. They are authentic, open, honest, personal narratives.
The Story Should be well told
Some of my early writing is so difficult to read with the overuse of prodigious words, poor rhythm, unsubscribed animations, underdeveloped characters, over simplistic logic, lack of meaning, pithy adjectival manoeuvres, and just ‘bad’ telling that it distracted from what I had in mind. Somehow, I had bought into the mistaken notion that a story had to have a complex structure and had to be clever for it to be appealing, however, at its core, an effective story structure is simple. We can tend to fall in love with our own stories, and consequently we can end up including too many details. I guard against this by crafting my story, then walking away from it for a few days. I then revisit it with fresh eyes, and edit, edit, edit. I prune out all superfluous details. I give people enough detail to set the context and to help them experience the story and see what I see. Giving too few details doesn't work either, as it prevents people from envisioning your story, so it is an adventure in itself of achieving a pleasing balance.
Early on I was a better verbal teller (than writer), because talking and drama, and flowing with dynamic improvisation seemed to come naturally for me. When I began to flow with some of these same aspects in my writing I found that I could weave a powerful narrative, not because I was trying to drive the narrative, but I allowed the creativity to drive the story. I started to be surprised myself where the stories took themselves. When this began happening for me, I also started to get my audience more engaged: I have learnt to make them wonder “what happens next?” or “how is this going to turn out?” As the characters within my stories pursue their goal, they must run into obstacles, surprises, or some happening that makes the audience sit up and take notice.
They adage that stories don’t tell: they show is a good reminder here. It is perhaps the most fundamental maxim of storytelling. The receivers of our story telling should feel the environment, be emotionally engaged with the key characters, see a picture, feel the conflict, and therefore become more involved with the story. As my stories began to be told better something inherently spiritual began to happen too. I relied on the Holy Spirit to help guide me on my quest. Even utilising my imagination to envision how The Lord might be engaging in my created world to bring life and reveal His Kingdom. Alongside of this creative release, I began to learn some important construction techniques. I am now a student of how to tell a story: its different forms, genres, writing techniques and human pleasing, soul moving dynamics.
The Story is a Catalyst for Change
Finally, an important goal of my story telling is that it is not just a good read but that it moves people to grow or change. Stories have at least one “moment of truth.” The best stories show us something about how we should be responding in various circumstances, how we understand and connect with ourselves, others, creation or the Creator. The power of a good story is a profound one: it can help connect with and move your audience, and not just make your material more memorable, it can inspire and transform. Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” People are not inclined to think about things they don’t care about. Stories stir emotions not simply for melodramatic effect, but to break through the white noise of information that continuously inundates us and to deliver the message: this is worth your attention. Perhaps the most effective way to help people be engaged at deeper levels to consider inherent changes for their own lives is by telling a compelling story.
I love the gift God has given us to be creators with him in our story telling adventures. I truly am grateful for this developing craft in my life that I get to bless others with. In the forefront of my thinking is a gracious God who I have joined hands with to make this journey together.
In the back of my mind I think the key aspects I have shared above help take me back to weaving my tales with an innate fervour.
What are yours?
Shane Brigg :)