Tonje Lilleås

Successful Storytelling – The goal of all content creation?

I find it so amusing how my youngest son is able to tell a whole story with his one word vocabulary. “Mamma” is all he needs to say. What he’s really saying is so much more than that one word. His storytelling is successful every time due to his use of context, body language, tone and facial expression. Imagine having that track record with what we create!

Want to know how to successfully tell a story in 15 seconds? Check out my post about #15secondfilmfestival

The stories that surrounds me right now

Storytelling isn’t really that hard. We’ve practiced it as humans through thousands of years, and most of us use the skill several times a day. Successful storytelling as a creator however, isn’t always as easy. Especially in periods when the stories that spark your passion for creating are long between, difficult to get to the core of or hard to tell the right way.

Right now I find myself in a place where the stories I’m triggered to tell are also the ones I’m not able to tell successfully. Not because they’re all especially groundbreaking or shattering, but rather the opposite; I’m not sure they are very interesting to others. I’m in a place where it’s all about the small every day stuff. Not traveling the world, not obsessing over some deep question or meeting a lot of new and interesting people. Rather just being in the small and somewhat insignificant moments of a totally ordinary life.

Successful storytelling from ordinary lives

Whenever I show my wife an image or video edit I’ve made she always says “it blows my mind how much more amazing this looks in what you’ve created than in real life”. Now you may think that this response proves that I’m not successful in my storytelling. How can I be when the result is fake news, right?

The thing is however; I’m not trying to report the news, not documenting the objective experience of a place, a person or an activity. Rather I’m always telling the story of how I experienced it. So to me what I created isn’t fake news. It’s my story.

In this I think the solution to successful storytelling from ordinary lives lies. If I’m able to turn what may seem something insignificant into something that evokes feelings or sparks interest, inspires even, than I have told my story successfully.

Exploring the local forest can turn into an amazing story of finding inner peace. Harvesting vegetables from your own garden could tell the story about personal growth. A bike ride to the local beach to watch the waves could help you teach people how to be present. It’s all about how you tell your story.

The keys to successful storytelling

No matter what kind of story we want to tell, there are a few key pointers to successful storytelling. These are the same no matter what format you choose to tell your story, applicable to photography, videography, writing or public speaking alike.

Define the purpose

You have to know your purpose of telling the story. Do you want to entertain, teach, provoke, inspire or motivate? If you don’t know why you’re telling the story, your audience probably won’t understand the point of your story either. And if the story has no purpose, what’s the use of telling it anyway?

Build a solid structure

Every story needs a beginning, a middle and an end. Even an image is built up this way as you lead the eyes of the viewer through the image with your use of composition, leading lines, light and contrast.

A series of images shouldn’t be placed in random order, you make sure the viewer sees the images in the order that tells the story, right?

In video you establish the scene and present your main subject first. Then you present a task or a problem to be solved and work around that in the middle. Before wrapping it up with a solution or conclusion in the end. Seems easy enough, but also easy to forget?

Make your audience want to know what’s next

What do the stories we love all have in common? They make us want to know what’s next. If we stay interested in finding out what’s going to happen next, we are going to keep listening to the story, right? That’s why we binge watch whole seasons of our favorite TV- series. Or why we slept in line to get to buy the next Harry Potter book at the moment it got out. If the whole story was resolved in the trailer of a movie, we wouldn’t watch the movie.

As storytellers we need to make sure there’s always a reason for our audience to stay with us to the end. We do that through making sure our audience keeps asking this one question; what’s next?

Keep just what you need to tell the story

I’ve written about killing your darlings before. And I really don’t think this key needs more explanation. However I’m going to say this; if you keep more than what you need to tell the story in your story, chances are your audience will loose interest. They will no longer ask the question of what’s next. You will loose them, and they will miss the purpose of you telling the story.

Also let me say this; killing your darlings does not mean that you should neglect the details. The story lies in the details, not the structure alone. However there’s the right amount of details you need to tell the story effectively. Stick with that, drop all things unnecessary.

Know that it’s all about hormones

I’m not going to take credit for this next key; nonetheless I just want you to know that your audiences reaction to your story is all about hormones.

David JP Phillips did a TEDX talk about successful storytelling that sparked my interest. The talk was called “The magical science of storytelling”. From this talk I gathered that the main key to successful storytelling is making sure your audience are emotionally invested in your story. And how do you do that?

You attempt increasing your audiences dopamine levels through building suspense. Through creating empathy with your subject you increase your audiences levels of oxytocin. And to complete the angels cocktail you induce endorphins through making your audience laugh. It’s all about the hormones.

Ten headlines for practicing successful storytelling from an ordinary life

The most important key to successful storytelling is the same as for any skill, we have to practice. And I want to leave you with ten headlines to start practicing successful storytelling from our ordinary lives.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and that it sparked your interest for storytelling. As mentioned humans have been telling stories for thousands of years, so no reason to stop here right? Leave a link to your storytelling project down in the comments section, I would love to see what you make! If you want  more of my creations, please subscribe to this blog through leaving your e-mail address. Also I would really appreciate it if you checked out my YouTube, Instagram or Facebook.

And remember; there’s always more to explore locally!



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