Shape of Stories

Check out this post by Kate Farrell and her book Story Power

he Oral Tradition preserved the first literature on Earth: Its stories, folktales, myths, and legends were handed down by word of mouth for millennia. Why? The stories that endured, that were unforgettable, had a simple, basic structure. These were the tales that could be well-handled, smoothed into shape, and passed down from one generation to the next.

We are familiar with the essential structure of a folk or fairy tale. Here’s one reductive pattern that we all can recall: The folktale structure features a beginning, a climax, and an ending; they begin with “Once Upon A Time” and end with and “they lived happily ever after.”

How do you capture this basic pattern so that your personal stories are unforgettable?

Story Structure:. Some storytellers follow their emotional charge in recalling an experience; some use an object, a photo, a prompt, a journal, or a writing exercise. All of these are compelling ways to begin this first step of story selection.

Narrative Arc: Whatever process you use, the story that begins to come into focus must eventually have these essential features for a personal narrative to be effective and memorable:

  • Setting
  • Characters
  • Conflict, tension
  • Narrative arc of rising action, increasing tension
  • Sensory images within the action
  • Dialogue within the action, if possible
  • Resolution of conflict

Continue to refine your memory of an incident to recall sensory details, the inherent conflict or problem. The conflict or rising action can be an expectation or the beginning of an adventure with some anticipation—whatever makes us sit up and listen, asking that all-important question: What happens next? It could be a high stakes or low stakes scenario, as long as the outcome is uncertain.

In addition to a narrative arc with rising and falling action, consider the setting, sensory details, characters, and dialogue. Just one or two lines of dialogue can bring a personal story to life.

Frame the story in sections. Once you’ve selected a story, frame it, using keywords and images, if possible. Draw the structure of the story any way you wish: with a storyboard to show the scenes, an outline to lists its sequence, a narrative arc to show the rise and fall of action, on index cards—each card with a section of the tale, or with a mind map. Whatever form you use, you are now determining the shape of the story.

Be aware that this is not a script, but a framing with trigger words, drawings, and images. A written script tends to restrict a spontaneous telling, one that is interactive with the audience. Often, graphic organizers are all you need to tell an effective story and to keep a record of your repertory.


Story Power by Kate Farrell

Story power

Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories

Stories are everywhere. The art of storytelling has been around as long as humans have. And in today’s noisy, techy, automated world, storytelling is not only prevalent—it’s vital. Whether you’re interested in enlivening conversation, building your business brand, sharing family wisdom, or performing on stage, Story Power will show you how to make use of a good story.