This leads to my first trick of the trade: tell your stories out loud. Whether you have dreams of becoming a performer or not, telling your stories out loud is the best way to puzzle out what they are. You get to answer these questions:
- Why am I telling this story? (which leads to…)
- What is this story about? (which leads to…)
- What is the best way to tell this story?
But how can you do that? Well, here’s another trick: work with concrete details that matter. What are concrete details that matter? They are details that deal in the five senses.
There was this amazing article in The New York Times about the way your brain responds to sense detail in writing:
A team of researchers from Emory University reported in Brain & Language that when subjects in their laboratory read a metaphor involving texture, the sensory cortex, responsible for perceiving texture through touch, became active. Metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” roused the sensory cortex, while phrases matched for meaning, like “The singer had a pleasing voice” and “He had strong hands,” did not.
There it is! Scientific proof that clichés and vague, general descriptions suck! Don’t disappoint your brain: write with the five senses. It is the proven way to engage your audience and invest them in your story.
And finally, the most important trick of all: ABSORB AMAZING STORIES. And this isn’t just about the classics. In my opinion, if you want to be a storyteller (someone who tells stories, whether it’s on the page, or the stage, or on the radio), you should be absorbing as many interesting forms of storytelling as you can. And guess what: THERE ARE SO MANY! Just check out how these people weave a narrative:
- 99% Invisible, the episode Heyoon, Radiolab
- The Kitchen Sisters
- Daniel Clowes
- Adrian Tomine
- Shalom Auslander
- Jennifer Egan
- Lorrie Moore
- Gay Talese
- Wells Tower
And so many more! Go to the library and lose your bananas. Listen to podcasts (like all the podcasts at Radiotopia). Study movies, songs, short stories, novels, jokes, literary journalism. Also, listen to Nathan Englander explaining the “write what you know” concept. I swear it will make you realize that you have TONS of stories to tell.