The Dos and Don’ts of Storytelling
Stories spark interest in us all. They articulate lessons and package ideas in relatable ways, making mundane topics fascinating. By communicating with readers through stories, we can keep them engaged and pique their curiosity while educating them about certain things.
In this article, we will discuss the dos and don’ts of storytelling.
Do: Make Stories Meaningful to a Wider Audience
The best stories are not only interesting and engaging, but also meaningful. They must make a clear point. No one wants their readers to finish their story and wonder, “What did that mean?” or “Why did that happen?”
Too often, writers are so immersed in their own experience and frame of thought that they forget a wider audience is reading. The best way to ensure your story matters is to create a transitional statement that moves the narrative from your perspective to a universal truth. Doing so allows readers to relate to your message and makes the story more meaningful
Stories that lack universal truth are only for entertainment. These stories are great for passing the time, but seldom influence a reader’s experience or stimulate hidden emotions.
Decide what message you want to convey through your story. Make sure you can summarize your message in a concise sentence. Once you do this, go back to your story, reread, and determine whether that message is clear to your readers. It’s best if you also ask others to read your story and ask what message they derive from it.
Do: Make It Authentic
The best stories are the ones people can relate to. Readers are intrigued with a person who understands their problems. Talking about a reader’s pain points helps you make your story feel authentic and allows you to engage with your audience.
Remember the famous saying: “Show. Don’t tell!” If you are highlighting a key issue or pointing out a societal problem in your novel, help the audience learn this through a well-constructed story.
For instance, merely mentioning that “censorship is bad” isn’t enough. Instead, construct a story or a subplot where you retell the experience of someone who has suffered from censorship.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of the greatest writers of the 19th century, was a victim of censorship. He was arrested and sentenced to death on the account of reading and distributing books banned in the Tsardom of Russia.
As per his sentence, he was dragged to a yard to be bound and executed. Moments before being shot, it was announced that Fyodor’s sentenced was shortened to hard labor in the hostile wilderness of Siberia.
His exile in Siberia lasted four years, where he worked hard labor and had his hands and feet shackled until release. Unfortunately, his woeful experience devolved into a life-long affliction of mental illness and epilepsy.
After his release, Fyodor Dostoevsky later used what he described as the last moments of his life in his own novel, The Idiot (1868–1869), where he retold his experience of his mock execution.
Do: Inspire Readers through Your Story
Stories usually present characters a moral choice to make. What your characters choose may inspire your audience to do the same. This is why stories can be a powerful tool to inspire people to face problems and give them the courage to act in their interest.
For this, you can describe a dilemma or challenge you faced and how acting a certain way allowed to overcome adversity. Describe your thought process during the ordeal and what lead you to redemption.
It’s good to mention what happened because of your decision. You can also discuss what you had learned about yourself from the experience and how it helped you become a better version of yourself.
Don’t: Switch Point of View
All writers narrate a story in a specific point of view. As a writer, you should always stick to a point of view and avoid switching between them. Pick whether you want to narrate your story from the first person or the third person and continue with it throughout the novel.
For instance, the novel Gone Girl is an interesting example where the author Gillian Flynn switches narration based on which character is in the spotlight. Just remember to keep your point of view consistent.
Don’t: Create Flat Characters
Characters take readers on a journey of narrative. Therefore, it makes sense to devote time to develop your characters and make them realistic. Create a sketch of who your character is and flesh out a rich history, personality, and traits that fit the description.
It’s important to create interesting backstories for main characters. However, it’s also useful to create backstories for less important characters, as well. Backstories of less important characters may not help initially, but later it could help you write better character arcs.
It makes sense to create flat, stereotypical characters if they are in short, expendable scenes. However, in the main plot of your novel, it’s best to sketch interesting characters who are imbued with depth.
Don’t: Edit Alone
Once you are finished writing, consider self-editing your initial draft several times. Edit for grammar and fix typos. Even as you remove all grammatical errors, your work may still have structural flaws, plot holes, or other issues you might have overlooked. This is why you should consider handing your novel to a professional editor.