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Storytelling Writing

Secrets to great storytelling for Writers

Are you a storyteller or a writer? Do you hold people’s attention rapt when regaling them with your latest adventures or do you find solace in telling your stories only on the written page? Can you easily move from being a good storyteller to writing those stories without falling into literary traps? What are some tips and tricks to make your storytelling flow more easily on the page? These questions and more were the topic of discussion at the latest Finding Your Writers Voice Meet-Up.

Storytelling secrets for writers

Storyteller vs Writers

Let’s start with a simple comparison. As a storyteller, in the classical oral sense, you are in front of the audience. You have an intimate feedback loop in place. You see the audience, you feel their reactions to your words, you see the expressions on their faces, and you hear their laughs and moans as you tell your story. You can use your presence to influence the telling of the story, your voice, its tone and pitch, your hand gestures, and your arm movements.

As a writer, you’re performing in a vacuum. There is no immediate feedback loop. You have no way of knowing how your story will be received. You can’t influence the reader based on their reactions to reading your story.

In his article on the key differences between storytelling and writing, Gordon Long lists six points you need to be aware of when transitioning from storytelling to writing.

  • Storytellers Platform
  • Storytelling is telling
  • Adverbs
  • POV
  • Dialogue (or Lack Thereof)
  • Sequencing

We moved on now to another article on well-kept secrets to great storytelling from Steven James. We didn’t quite get through all his secrets but we did focus on one.

Cause and Effect are King!

What comes first in your scenes? The cause of the action, or the action (effect) caused by some event. While you’re thinking about this hold in your mind the process of moving a story forward. To create seamless forward motion in your story, from the reader’s pov, think about the ease with which the reader can understand the effect part of the equation.

Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let’s take the simple example James gave and play with it a bit to explore the possibilities of cause and effect.

Using Cause and Effect

In the example above the effect is written before the cause. As a reader, you’re not sure why she locked the door with trembling fingers. Only when we read the next sentence do we find out what caused the effect. Even though this is a tiny passage of time, when reading the full sentence, James argues it’s enough to jar the reader and potentially break the emotional engagement they have with the story.

James goes on to say that if you find one sentence is serving to explain what happened in the preceding sentence, then by reversing the order you can improve the reader’s experience. The above example now becomes;

Switching cause and effect

Now let’s play with some sentences similar to the above and see if switching the cause and effect works.

Example 1

Out of breath, Sarah fumbled with her keys, managing eventually to open her front door, slamming it shut behind her, and rushed to put the lights on. Was that large shadow beside the street lamp that seemed to shift and move in Sarah’s direction a person?

Now, let’s try switching it around.

Was that large shadow beside the street lamp that seemed to shift and move in Sarah’s direction a person? Out of breath, Sarah fumbled with her keys, managing eventually to open her front door, slamming it shut behind her rushing to put the lights on.

In his book Scene and Structure, Jack M. Bickham tells us, ‘Stimulus and response are cause and effect made more specific and immediate’.

Example 2

The car swerved violently as Bill saw the dog race across the junction at the last minute.

The dog raced across the junction causing the car to swerve violently as Bill only noticed the dog at the last minute.

Hopefully, you can see the difference here between cause and effect and the importance of getting the order of events correct.

The two additional secrets that are worth checking out from James are:

  • If it’s not believable, it doesn’t belong
  • It’s all about escalation

Some additional links that you may find interesting on this topic are:

That’s all we had time for on the evening. It gave us food for thought as we pondered our storytelling skills and especially the cause and effect secret.

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