Hi there, fellow writer. Let me give you some items for your storytelling toolbox. Here’s why I’m giving them to you. I remember years ago being in woodshop and having to learn how to identify tools in order to make things.
When you think about storytelling as a job, at first it sounds like fun but then as you learn more it can feel quite overwhelming. Anyone can tell a story, but can you tell a story that people want to hear? It turns out, storytelling is a craft, a profession, and like any profession, there are tools to the trade. Having the right tools, and knowing how to use them, can make the difference between building the Taj Mahal, or a doghouse. We all want to be master workers at storytelling, don’t we? Your stories are going to become that much more fun to read when you make use of these items for your storytelling toolbox:
General Storytelling Resources
Like all great toolboxes, we start with some simple, general tools. These ideas form the basis of storytelling and are helpful no matter what kind of story you plan on telling.
- “All The Things I Could Not Say” – a quick video that shows the power of story
- Why It’s Great to be a Storyteller – More than a vocation. It’s truly a way of life
- Pixar Rules for Great Storytelling
- Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” Story Arc
- 25 Questions to Ask to Get the Story – Use these reporter-style questions to get deeper into your story
More Information About the ‘Hero’s Journey’ (see above)
Now let’s dig into storytelling mechanics with two major areas: arcs and diegesis:
Everyone knows what a narrative arc is, even if they don’t know it had a name. When you tell anyone what happened today (“I got up, I went to work, I came home, I ate dinner”), that’s a narrative arc. The narrative arc is the factual structure and shape of a story. But there’s more to the storytelling, story! In fact, there are two major kinds to arcs be aware of:
Storytelling Arcs – Make no mistake, a storytelling arc is not the plot of the movie. As you’ll learn in the linked article, the plot is comprised of the individual events that make up your story, bu your story arc is the sequence of those events. Sure, the bad guy dies in act three, but you have to show the reader that the hero found the gun that shot him in act one. Your narrative / storytelling arc is how you’ll show all of these things happening, and in what order, to keep your audience riveted until the very last page.
Emotional Arcs – Kurt Vonnegut is a famous writer and he’s known for calling out the major categories of ’emotional arcs’ in the linked article. The main thing you should be aware of is what emotional arc you’re following in your story. You can use whatever arc you think works best, but it’s important to be consistent. For example, the worst movies you’ve ever seen frequently fail because they’re not clear on what arc(s) they’re using. Other times, great stories make use of several arcs simultaneously. Think about Raiders of the Lost Ark: It’s got a ‘Man in Hole’ arc, a ‘Boy Meets Girl’ arc, a ‘Bad to Worse’ arc. You never know ‘which way is up’ until the very end! So don’t be afraid to use one or several emotional arcs – just be sure you know what they are, and how they work together.
But arcs are only one category of storytelling tool! Now, let’s focus on another category that will take your stories into a brand-new dimension:
Understanding storytelling from a diagetic perspective creates a story’s texture and depth, but what is it? Simply put: Diagetic storytellign is a style of fiction storytelling that presents an interior view of a world in which:
– Details about the world itself and the experiences of its characters are revealed explicitly through narrative.
– The story is told or recounted, as opposed to shown or enacted.
– There is a presumed detachment from the story of both the speaker and the audience.
In diegesis, the narrator tells the story. The narrator presents the actions (and sometimes thoughts) of the characters to the readers or audience. Diegetic elements are part of the fictional world (“part of the story”), as opposed to non-diegetic elements which are stylistic elements of how the narrator tells the story (“part of the storytelling”).
Why You Need to Know About Diegetic storytelling – Eventually, you’ll have to explain to others what kind of story you’re telling. Is your protagonist telling the story, are they telling it as it happens? Does your story have a narrator, and does that narrator tell the story from inside the world of the story ( intradiegetic) or outside ( extradiegetic)? Is the story happening inside another story (metadiegetic)? Here’s more info on intra- vs extradiegetic storytelling.
I’ve used a number of diagetic modes in my storytelling. My next novel, Cinderallavator, uses metadiagetic storytelling because it’s a story happening inside another story. That’s what works best for the kind of story I’m telling. You might to do the same, or you might use another method. It’s all up to you, though. You’re the storyteller, so you’re in the driver seat!
I’m going to add more items for your storytelling toolbox over time. For now, I hope you found arcs and diagetic storytelling to be helpful in your personal writing craft. Questions, comments, things you don’t understand? Ask me about them on Reddit.
We’ll talk more, soon!