How To Tell A Story

Josh Hunt has some good words below on how to tell a story effectively ...

Skilled communicators know that telling stories is one of the most effective ways to communicate. Story telling is modeled for us by the Master-Teacher and is widely used by effective communicators.

What makes a story work? What makes a story fall flat? How can stories be used to communicate truth effectively? And, how can we keep stories from being boring?

One of the best ways to answer this question is to look at movies. Movies tell a story. Good movies tell a story effectively. What does a good love story, a good action film, or a good comedy have in common with all other good love stories, action films or comedies? As far as that goes, what do these have in common with a good sporting event? How is it that we can sit through an exciting football game for three hours fully engaged and can't sit though church without looking at our watches?

Time out.

What are you feeling right now? Pause. Think about it. What is going on? Are you tempted to put down this article or do you want to keep reading? If I have done my job well you will want to keep reading. And you will want to keep reading for the same reason that you want to keep listening to a story told well, a movie done well, or an exciting sporting event.

You want to know how it ends.

The gap theory

I start a lot of books, but I don't finish many. Only occasionally will I finish I book. Once in a great while, I will be so impressed with a book that I will finish it, then purchase the audio and listen to the whole thing again. Made to Stick by brothers Chip and Dan Heath is one of those books. They explore six facets of what it takes to make a message stick.  Let's look at an excerpt from pages 84 - 85.

In 1994 Greg Loewenstein, a behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon University provided the most comprehensive account of situational interest. It is surprisingly simple. Curiosity happens, he says, when we feel a gap in our knowledge.

Loewenstein argues that gaps cause pain. When we want to know something but don't, it is like having an itch that we need to scratch. To take ways the pain, we need to fill the knowledge gap. We sit patiently through bad movies, even though they may be painful to watch, because it is too painful to not know how they will end.

This "gap theory" seems to explain why some domains seems to create fanatical interest: They naturally create knowledge gaps. Take movies for instance. McKee's language is similar to Loewenstein's: McKee says, "Story works by posing questions and opening situations." Movies cause us to ask, "What will happen?" Mystery novels cause us to ask, "Who did it?" Sports contests cause us to ask, "Who will win?" Crossword puzzles cause us to ask, "What is a six letter word for psychiatrist?" Pokémon cards cause kids to wonder, "Which characters am I missing?"

One important implication of the gap theory is that we need to open gaps before we close them. Our tendency is to tell people the facts. First, they must realize they need the facts.  The trick to convincing people they need our message, according to Loewenstein is to highlight some specific knowledge that they are missing. We can pose a question or a puzzle that confronts people with a gap in their knowledge. We can point out that someone else knows something that we don't. We can present them with situation that have unknown resolutions, such as elections, sporting events, or mysteries. We can challenge them to predict an outcome (Which creates two gaps--What will happen? and Was I right?)

Summary

In order to make a story work, you have to make the question clear. You have to plant in your listeners a burning curiosity to want to know, "Who done it? How will this work out?"

Don't give answers till your people are sufficiently curious about the question.