So what makes a good Storyteller? is it their posture, their twinkling eyes, of perhaps the way they project there voice, and roll their R’s exuberantly. maybe it’s their magnificent beards, or perhaps they have just been touched by the power of words themselves? .. well it is in fact all of these and more!.. well at least I think so.
So how do they do it?
We have all I am sure had the misfortune of having the experience of bad storytelling, be it a movie you have either walked out on or drifted off in the middle, or a book that was such a chore to get through you could have read several in the time it took you to plough through this one monstrosity. BUT we have all hopefully had the pleasure of good/ great storytelling, the novel that you picked up not knowing that.. you’re not sleeping until it is over or the movie or series you watch again and again, and look forward to the follow up. Those kind of stories that you finish, and you are reaching for the next one, we are enthralled.
Now I can’t be the only person who has sat, and thought I want to write.. but how do I make it like the latter more than the former.. I look at authors such as Pratchett, Lynch, Rothfuss and Hulick.. and think how the hell do they do it time after time?
I have come to the conclusion that some of it in undoubtedly just talent plain and simple but by breaking the stories down there are several somewhat generic points they all cover.
· Backstory / Plot
· Attention to detail
The first thing i believe you have to consider, is perhaps the most important thing of all in storytelling, and that is the setting, where is this story going to take place, what kind of world, and where within it. What are the rules? and how do thing work, and these things need to work consistently. In order to do this many Storytellers create Journals or sketchbooks to slowly piece together the world, and or setting of their story. and then within that you have settings of events, such as the romance scene in the hanging gardens of the gentry, or the fighting dens of the backstreets of Tamri. Whatever you choose to create, your setting and the items within it can play an important role in helping your story take shape and move forward in interesting ways.
Ah Characters, those beloved or hated individuals that are within your story, they can be and can do anything. Depending on the parameters of your setting, it would be slightly jarring to have a modern day man referencing cars, televisions and other “normal” statements of pop culture references in a world that is completely separate from our own. although I must admit on occasion this does work as a joke, but never the less it’s still incredibly jarring to the reader.
I believe a good way to create interesting characters, is to create a character whose personalities has more than its fair share of contradictions, let’s look at this realistically in the real world all human are capable of great good and great evil. No one person is solely one or the other, though I am sure that is often a matter of perspective. And it is this perspective is what you need to alter. For example, to force a character to make a wrong decision, and then have to live with it makes the reader relate to the character better maybe even create a emotional response. Characters should be complicated, you dont need to know everything about them, if you leave a little to the imagination, the reader will fill in the gaps and come to there own different conclusions about the character. once you have a rough idea of the characters personality and you have left some room for growth and change as the story progresses. you need to make sure you convey this planned character to the reader, typically this is done through 3 mediums:
Appearance sets the mind of the reader, you can tell a lot about a person’s appearance, are they clean, so they slouch? step confidently or skulk in the shadows, are they finely dressed or are they wearing a potato sack with some holes for the arms and legs in it?
Dialogue, sets the tone for their temperament and likeability, are they Loud and brash, or Quiet and mousey, thick headed, or use slang, even stutter, or have a strong accent? all of these build up a characters complexity and it can tell your audience a lot about them.
Actions, this is the most powerful tool of all it speaks for itself, do they do good deeds or bad ones, do they second guess themselves do they regret? these actins ultimately let the audience draw their own conclusions about the character.
Conflict / Backstory and Plot
As I stated before, conflict is one of the major driving forces of a story, not to mention character development. We’re not interested in the characters triumphs; we’re interested in its humanity and the trials and tribulations it took to get to that point, those heartfelt moments where a character rebels against its nature to do good or bad tasks to further the plot.
The plot is what happens in your story, and your characters actions should play an important part of it, a good story is generally driven by its characters not the other way around, its best in my opinion to make it seem like the character has made a decision so the plot has moved in a certain direction, rather than the plot is turning quick make the character do the appropriate action. It is always important to communicate in detail to the audience what the situation is, and how it is playing out in particularly to set the scene at the beginning of the story.
I find that Fairytales are the best straight forward example of plot, as they are straight forward and non complex, take little red riding hood for example.
First you have the set up of the story : A little girl wearing a red cape, is going to her grandmothers house in the woods, she is told not to stray from the path and to go straight there without delay in order to deliver.. (it varies) some groceries.
The you have the story build up suspense by adding conflict and events : Little red riding hood, knows she should stay on the path, but she thinks grandma would like some of those pretty flowers in the clearing near the path, does she defy her mother or keep going? naturally she defies her in doing so she come across Mr Wolf, a convocation happens that induces fear and distrust in the character, she leaves only to get slightly lost before finding the path, and goes to her grandmother’s home.
now you have the twist or the penultimate ending: where of course the wolf is there waiting in her grandmothers clothes and eventually after some olde timey whit eats her, and depending on the version she is saved by the woodsman, or that’s it.
now backstory all depends on what kind of story you are telling. If you are telling a story similar to that of a fairytale, not a lot of backstory is needed. For example, you knew little red riding hood was a grandchild and she was travelling to her grandmothers, but other than that you know anything about her.
Backstory, is Novel writing, It could be a case of giving an item a back story, our hero has a sword, but is it any sword, no its a magical sword bestowed upon his grandfather by the gods of the wind in order to destroy a roaming demon horde that was ravaging the land. A backstory such as the one I just described might never be explicitly stated in the story, it may be hinted at through snippets of flashbacks within the story. Only to become a massive plot point to reveal at a crucial part of the story, or it could be stated from the start. Either way, it crucially affects the progress of the story.
Backstory can be used to foreshadow upcoming events such as the arrival of a character, the death of a character or the coming of some annual or large pre-planned reoccurring event. Backstory like the Setting is one of the most powerful tools in storytelling as it can effect, and alter everything within you story, it can add plot twists, solve issues and make them as well.