A Formula For Telling A Good Story

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Image via Creative Commons, Jim Pennucci’s Flickr photostream. (Source)

Whether you are a business-person, a sales executive, an improviser, or a social butterfly, telling a good engaging story is essential. There are those who can impart information to others, and then there are those who can tell a great story. This is sometimes enigmatic: how does one person draw you in to their story, and another person make you not care about what they’re saying? Here’s a formula that I learned that allowed me to tell an engaging story.

First of all, watch your interactions with people, specifically when you are retelling an event to someone, and notice when they react positively to that story. If you get 2-3+ positive reactions, you have a story that you can retell, and it will hit well without much tweaking.

But if your story needs some retooling, and isn’t hitting the way you want it to, here’s the formula that I learned from an exercise called “String Of Pearls”:

Break your story into 6 parts:

    1. Who: Start with who is involved. Was it you alone, with another person, or a group of people. How are you related to those people?

 

  • What: Communicate what the action was, such as being at a party or driving to a friend’s house.

 

 

  • Where: Actively describe where you are, using senses. If you are good at establishing the location, you can get the listener to start re-living the senses with you.

 

 

  • Conflict: This is the bulk of the story. What is the importance of this story? What happened, and what action did you take to try to resolve what was happening?

 

 

  • Resolution: How were you able to handle the task set up in “conflict”?

 

 

  • Tag: This one is a bit tricky, but it’s the aftermath of the resolution, and usually is a joke, or the big finish of the story.

 

Here’s a quick example without most of the flourish that you should use:

WHO: I
WHAT: was walking
WHERE: in the city
CONFLICT: and heard someone saying they didn’t like this city
RESOLUTION: so I told him to walk with me to the best coffee shop in town. He liked the shop so much that
TAG: he bought me a cup!

See? Very simple when you know the breakdown.

Now, for the next level, try and link parts of the formula together. This isn’t required, but adds a different level of depth to the story. For this example, I will link:

  • Who – Tag
  • What – Resolution
  • Where – Conflict

Here are the links that I used (same example):

WHO: I
WHAT: was walking
WHERE: in the city
CONFLICT: and heard someone saying they didn’t like this city
RESOLUTION: so I told him to walk with me to the best coffee shop in town. He liked the shop so much that
TAG: he bought me a cup!

    • “I” goes with “me”

 

  • “walking” goes with “walk”

 

 

  • “city” goes with “city”

 

Now that is very basic, and you don’t have to link with words. Link concepts instead.

The freedom here is that you can link any one of the first three concepts with any of the last three concepts. “What” can go with “Tag”, “Who” can go with “Conflict”. Mix and match to your heart’s content!

With this formula, you can make most stories have an interesting, effective arc!

This post’s author is Taylor Sternberg, and he blogs about using improv skills in everyday life at ImprovLifestyle.com. Topics include making strong choices, understanding the dynamics of social relationships, and being an effective communicator. Other articles include “9 Ways To Deflect Insults and Retain Your Status” and The Power of “Yes, And”.

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