The 10 Principles of Storytelling

I recently finished a great little book called How to tell your story so the world listens by Bobette Buster.

It’s a short, yet affecting book, looking at how we can all tell our stories better, and Bobette reduces the art of storytelling to 10 basic principles. Here are a few of them below…

1. Tell your story as If you’re telling it to a friend.

I think this is so important. Writing something so that it can be easily understood is a fundamental. You can use all the long words you like, but if your audience doesn’t get the message, you’ve failed.

2. Set the GPS

Even sci-fi has an element of reality and sets its story in a relevant context. Think time, place and context

4. Juxtapose

You want to wake your audience up and keep them interested, so putting two opposing ideas next to each other will hopefully achieve that.

5. Gleaming detail

Pick up a copy of a real-life stories magazine, such as Chat, and pay close attention to the writing. They’ll always include something small that really stands out. Like the song that was playing at a crucial moment, an item of clothing, or a a particular smell. It’s that detail that truly captures the essence of a story.

7. Be vulnerable: dare to share the emotion of your story

This comes back to the belief angle. Readers have to tap into your story and that means how you feel. Don’t be scared to ‘fess up.

10. Let go

Don’t try to overthink. If you allow your story to end where it feels it should, you’re almost definitely right. Let your audience do some thinking and wondering – it’ll make them remember your story even more.

It’s a great book and it certainly got me thinking. Definitely worth getting hold of.

Why the Breaking Bad finale broke new ground for ‘event TV’ (spoiler free)

Breaking BadAlong with tens of thousands of people in the UK, I watched the finale of Breaking Bad on Monday.

Without spoiling anything for those still working their way through earlier series, I can say that it was unanimously ackowledged to be a thoroughly satisfying ending for a popular and critically-acclaimed show.

But – in the UK at least – what made this different was how and when people watched the finale.

You see, unlike amc’s 8pm timeslot in the US, in Britain, we chose exactly when we watched it because we were using Netflix.

A new watercooler moment

Although it was shown on a cable TV network in America, you had to watch the final series in the UK via the web.

Netflix made the episode available to watch at 9am on Monday morning – and I have some friends who indulged before lunch – allowing anyone to watch it whenever they wanted.

Breaking Bad is groundbreaking because we didn’t all sit down and watch it at 9pm together, which historically was how we all experienced the end of a TV show.

In this instance, everyone made their own personal choice of starting time: be it 8.01pm, 8.46pm, 9.22pm… you get my drift. And this is the radical change that has been brought about by the way we now consume TV.

Remember Sky Plus?

The arrival of Sky Plus in the UK back in 2002 allowed us to do radical things. Quite aside from recording programmes on 2 different channels, while you watched a 3rd, you could pause live TV, set up instant series links and choose to start watching something from the beginning even before it had finished.

This was the beginning of what we now know as ‘timeshifting’ – watching TV at a time of one’s own choosing, also allowing you to skip the ad breaks.

This has become so endemic that BARB statistics from 2011 suggested that around 15% of viewing was timeshifted – a figure that is bound to have increased since.

The arrival of Netflix has moved things on again. Imagine telling someone 10 years ago, you were going to watch the most talked-about TV show “on Netflix, through your Wii”. Utter gobbledy-gook to someone in 2003, yet it emphasises how much change has occurred in a short space of time.

Why we all secretly prefer an untidy end to a story

The Returned - Les RevenantsLast night, the first series of acclaimed French drama The Returned finished its run on C4.

The anticipation had been building for weeks, as question after question was raised about why dead people had come back to the Alpine town?

Unsurprisingly, to me at any rate, the finale provided some answers, but ultimately raised many more questions.

As a result, Twitter was awash with people frustrated with all the loose ends and gutted that they have to wait ‘until next year’ to see the 2nd series.

Neat and tidy?

But, seriously, what were they expecting? And those who clamoured for a nice, neat, straightforward ending are surely kidding themselves.

Denouments of stories that come tidily wrapped with all the edges perfectly folded and a big bow are few and far between nowadays, and dramatic storytelling is all the better for it, as far as I’m concerned.

As much as we all love a ‘Hollywood ending’, most of us (bar the diehard romantics) appreciate that life isn’t cut and dried and things don’t always resolve themselves perfectly, so why should our fictional entertainment be any different?

After all, very few people would claim that their enjoyment of a show or film is completely spoiled by an ending that leaves a few plotpoints unanswered. In fact, it’s these very frayed bits that can often cement a drama’s reputation.

The Usual Suspects

Remember the end of The Usual Suspects? The payoff at the end as Kevin Spacey walks down the street, gradually losing his limp and the flashes to the noticeboard are one of modern cinema’s great jawdropping finales.

However, there was just as much chat and analysis devoted to proving if Verbal could really have been Keyser Soze, based on what many viewers saw as major plotholes and inconsistencies.

Now, we’re sure that writer Christopher McQuarrie could happily explain them away, if he so chose, but the beauty of the way the film finishes is that you’re left with unanswered questions, thus letting the film sit in your consciousness for longer.

Don’t fight it

In fact, the worst thing you can do is to expect a modern story to finish neatly. That’s not the way film and TV works any more.

Look at Lost. It lasted 6 seasons and became ever more labyrinthine as the show progressed. As one question was answered, it merely raised 3 more.

Unfortunately, creators JJ Abrams and Damon Lindelhof claimed that they always had a resolution in mind for the show, but when the end credits rolled for the final time in May 2010, there were howls of anguish around the globe from those fans who had stuck with it for the past 6 years.

Part of the issue was the rather simplistic answer to the main question, but what frustrated most diehard fans was that there were lots of plot points that were never clarified. Duhh!

Let your perfectionism go

I suspect that people who moan about plotholes or loose ends are the ones who are life’s perfectionists. The ones who have to dot the ‘t’s and cross the ‘i’s [sic].

Well, my message to those is to relax and enjoy what you’re watching. The world isn’t perfect and deep down you know this, so allow yourself the pleasure of immersing yourself in something that has flaws. Go on, admit, you like it really.