The Easiest Way To Tell A Story

Jim Woods

Photo by Pereanu Sebastian on Unsplash

Here's the thing: you are already a storyteller. You know how to tell stories. But telling a clear, compelling story can be difficult. Why? There are a ton of different ways to tell a story.

Storytelling Approach #1

There’s plotting — or outlining — which is often based on a specific methodology like the following: Save The Cat, Story Grid, Story Maps, The Snowflake Method, story beats, and many, many more. Plotting writers often swear by this approach and love that with this approach you know the ending before you write your book.

Storytelling Approach #2

There is also pantsing, which is essentially making up the story as it comes to you. In most cases, you don’t know what is coming next until you write it.

The Much Easier Way

But storytelling can be made EVEN simpler. How does three words sound? No, I’m not talking about beginning, middle and end. You already know those are a critical part of storytelling.

Drum roll please… here it is… no “and then.”

What??? Yep. No “and then.”

Of course, this also makes me think of this scene from this cheesy movie. courtesy of Giphy

Okay, let me explain. Stories have to be interconnected to work. There has to be causation.

If there is not causation, you have one action scene or set piece leading to another like in many Michael Bay movies.

That’s not a story. Is it entertaining? Sure. But it’s not a story.

If at any point in your novel, screenplay, or even blog post you find yourself going “and then” you’ve got something that isn’t very good.

What you need is the following words: therefore, because, or but.

One of these words fits right between each scene or chapter. You could even say those three words guide decisions.

Luke Skywalker went with Obi-Wan because his uncle was killed and there was nothing for him Tatooine.

Where Things Get More Complicated

The word but is also really important because it shows that there is a complication. Let’s look at an example with Jaws.

Several people turned up dead and/or missing in Amity, therefore Sheriff Brody decided to close the beach.

But the mayor didn’t want to scare off any tourists, so he kept the beach open.

Therefore Sheriff Brody was on lookout and unable to relax while he was at the beach. (Cue the buildup of major suspense.)

Some Final Thoughts

Give this storytelling approach a shot. It’s so simple that you can put it into use today. When you keep learning and trying new things as a storyteller, that’s also how you will grow. Good stories are always clear. When you ramble, you flat out bore the reader, and you can even erode trust.

Why? If you don’t value the end user’s time, she won’t trust you.

And you need trust. Or the reader will go find something else to read. For the most part, attention spans are not getting any better because each of us is busier than ever. Your writing is competing with countless other websites, Netflix, YouTube, and video games. Keep that in mind.

Speak directly to the reader as if she is sitting right there next to you. If you fail to do this, you’ll fail to keep her attention. Too many writers are self-indulgent. Yes, you can get away with it if you have a huge following and have sold millions of books. You can do it if your name is Stephen King or James Patterson.

But, for everyone else, every single word matters. So cut the fluff. Write for impact. Write to move people and to take action.

Write scenes where there are real stakes — life or death — for every single character.

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Stories are powerful. That's why I write.

Akron, OH

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