Storytelling: then and now

Back when I was little, I went through a phase of telling people that I wanted to write a book when I grew up.

I had no idea what I wanted to write and no real understanding of what writing a book entailed. I just knew that I wanted to create stories and write them down. Leave a permanent mark somewhere in the world.

As an adult, I now make a living with telling stories for other people. Instead of writing books though I write articles, blogs, press releases and newsletters – to name just a few.

But where did storytelling come from in the first place? And what’s the secret to telling a good story?

Let’s begin by taking a look at how it all started.

The evolution of storytelling

Humans began sharing stories around 100,000 years ago with painting and drawing. Yet it’s only within the last few hundred years that we really transitioned into storytellers.

It all started with folklore – a form of oral storytelling that helped to inspire countless fairytales around the world.

Folklore was full of symbolism and metaphors. Stories were passed on from person to person and the meaning of such tales were dissected and interpreted from one generation to the next.

It was a time of sitting around camp fires and keeping warm by sharing myths and legends. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

Fast forward to today’s digital age and storytelling is everywhere – but not in quite the same way.

In the modern world, we are bombarded with social media, 24/7 news, podcasts, photographs, magazines, books and lots of other mediums in between.

Storytelling is also the backbone of professions like marketing, PR, and advertising, with content creation a central pillar for building brands.

In fact, storytelling is a huge part of our daily lives. So much so that it can be exhausting with a million stories competing for our attention every day.

Is it time to go back to basics? Sit around a crackling fire and tell ghost stories?

Probably not.

But we can refresh our memory with how to craft a compelling story, and how to tell it so that it catches the audience’s attention.

How to tell a good story

To get started, here are five essential components when it comes to good storytelling:

  • Characters – who/what is the story about?
  • Setting – where is the story based?
  • Plot – what is happening?
  • Conflict – what problems will the characters experience?
  • Resolution – how will the issue be resolved?

Sounds simple enough, right?

However, the key lies in weaving it all together to convey a message, entertain or evoke emotions.

You want to strike a chord with the audience and make sure it’s your story that they’re paying attention to. Not the millions of other stories out there.

And the best way to do that is to deliver something they can connect with or relate to.

This can be done in a subtle manner by leaving questions unanswered. Or hinting at something in the background to capture their curiosity.

You can connect with the audience by talking to them directly and taking them on a journey.

Or you can communicate through comedy – making the audience laugh as they follow along and forging a bond with them in the process.

Ultimately, the goal is to get an audience to listen. And if you’re in marketing or advertising, to then encourage them to take action and become customers.

Remember, we all have stories to tell. Yet it’s how a story is told that separates the good storytellers from the great.

After all, people will always listen to a good storyteller. But they will hang on every word of a great storyteller.

Got a story to tell but don’t know where to start? Get in touch at hello@hayleymaguire.com