Book Full Title: Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life through the Power of Storytelling.
Book page on Goodreads: Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life through the Power of Storytelling.
Book in a Paragraph
The book talks about the art of finding, forming, and creating stories that you can tell on a stage, at dinner with friends, etc. The book introduces the “homework for life” where you write a brief description every day about the most story-worthy moment of that day. This helps you find stories and make time slow down for you; you will stop feeling that days and years go by in a flash. The book discusses that each story is really about a 5-second moment in which change happens and heart moves. The best beginning of a story is at the opposite state of that 5-second moment. The book talks about strategies to make the audience more interested and engaged with your story (The Elephant, Backpacks, Breadcrumbs, Hourglasses, and Crystal Balls). The book also shows how to create a cinema in the minds of your listeners by simply providing a physical location for every moment of your story. It talks how surprise is the only way to elicit an emotional reaction from your audience. It states that the present tense is the best tense to tell stories because it makes audience more “present” in your story. It teaches you how to tell a success story.
Good book that contains some useful techniques to be a better story teller. The techniques mentioned in the book could have been told in a much shorter book. However, it was enjoyable to read the author unique stories throughout the book.
Who Should Read it?
Anyone interested in becoming a better story teller.
Let’s also be clear that when I talk about storytelling, I am speaking about personal narrative. True stories told by the people who lived them.
Your story must reflect change over time. A story cannot simply be a series of remarkable events. Regardless of whether your change is infinitesimal or profound, positive or negative, your story must reflect change.
If you wouldn’t tell your story at dinner that way, for goodness’ sake don’t tell it onstage that way. Storytelling is not theater. It is not poetry. It should be a slightly more crafted version of the story you would tell your buddies over beers.
Homework for Life
What is “Homework for Life”? I decided that at the end of every day, I’d reflect upon my day and ask myself one simple question: If I had to tell a story from today — a five-minute story onstage about something that took place over the course of this day — what would it be? As benign and boring and inconsequential as it might seem, what was the most storyworthy moment from my day? I decided not to write the entire story down, because to do so would require too much time and effort.
There’s an added bonus to Homework for Life. It might just be the most important reason to do the exercise. As you begin to take stock of your days, find those moments — see them and record them — time will begin to slow down for you. The pace of your life will relax.
This change (resulting from doing the Homework for Life) won’t happen instantly, and in this world, most people want their results instantaneously.
Dreaming at the End of Your Pen
Stream of consciousness is the act of speaking or writing down whatever thought that enters your mind, regardless of how strange, incongruous, or even embarrassing it may be. People have been utilizing stream-of-consciousness strategies for a long time. It helps in generating new ideas and resurrecting old memories.
Rules for doing the stream of consciousness exercise:
- You must not get attached to any one idea.
- You must not judge any thought or idea that appears in your mind.
- You cannot allow the pen to stop moving. You must continue writing words even when your mind is empty. To make this happen, I use colors. When I have no other thought in my mind, I begin listing colors on the page until one of them triggers a thought or memory.
That’s it. Set a timer for ten minutes, follow these three rules, and go. I always launch my sessions with an object in the room, but you can start any way you want.
First Last Best Worst
All you need for this exercise is pen and paper. Fill the “First”, “Last”, “Best”, and “Worst” columns for each prompt as you can see in the example image below:
Every Story Takes Only Five Seconds to Tell
Every great story ever told is essentially about a five-second moment in the life of a human being, and the purpose of the story is to bring that moment to the greatest clarity possible. So dig. Search. Hunt. Fight for the five-second moment. Allow yourself to recall the entire event. Don’t get hung up on the big moments, the unbelievable circumstances, or the hilarious details. Seek out the moments when you felt your heart move. When something changed forever, even if that moment seems minuscule compared to the rest of the story.
Finding Your Beginning
Once you’ve distilled your five-second moment down to its essence, ask yourself: What is the opposite of your five-second moment? Simply put, the beginning of the story should be the opposite of the end. Find the opposite of your transformation, revelation, or realization, and this is where your story should start. This is what creates an arc in your story. This is how a story shows change over time.
Try to start your story with forward movement whenever possible.
In 2016, humorist Mo Rocca delivered a commencement speech at Sarah Lawrence College and provided one granular bit of wisdom that is both applicable and memorable:
Some perspective: Your great-grandparents — and some of you may be lucky enough to have known them — survived the Great Depression and defended freedom during World War II, defeating Hitler and the forces of darkness, ensuring that their progeny could also enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There’s a very good reason the women and men of that generation are known in history as the Greatest Generation. Well, I did some research, and it turns out that the life expectancy of that generation was just 54. Your life expectancy is 76. That means that you can take a deep breath, chill out — catch up on House of Cards and Narcos — and spend the next twenty-two years figuring out what you want to do — and you could still end up matching the achievements of the Greatest Generation.
Stakes: Five Ways to Keep Your Story Compelling
I use five different strategies to infuse stories with stakes:
The Elephant: The Elephant is the thing that everyone in the room can see. It is large and obvious. It is a clear statement of the need, the want, the problem, the peril, or the mystery. It signifies where the story is headed. When a storyteller begins speaking, whether in a theater or a dining room or a conference room, the audience often has no idea of what to expect. The Elephant tells the audience what to expect. It gives them a reason to listen, a reason to wonder. The Elephant is the difference between these two beginnings of a story:
Version #1: My mother was the kind of woman whom everyone adored. The model of decorum and civility. She served as PTO president and treasurer of the ladies’ auxiliary. She was the only female umpire in our town’s Little League. She baked and knit and grew vegetables by the pound.
Version #2: I don’t care how perfect my mother was. When I was nine years old, I wanted to disown her. Leave home and never return. Forget she ever existed. My mother was the kind of woman whom everyone adored. The model of decorum and civility. She served as PTO president and treasurer of the ladies’ auxiliary. She was the only female umpire in our town’s Little League. She baked and knit and grew vegetables by the pound.
Elephants can also change color. That is, the need, want, problem, peril, or mystery stated in the beginning of the story can change along the way. Don’t switch Elephants. Simply change the color.
Backpacks: A Backpack is a strategy that increases the stakes of the story by increasing the audience’s anticipation about a coming event. It’s when a storyteller loads up the audience with all the storyteller’s hopes and fears in that moment before moving the story forward. In “Charity Thief,” I stick a Backpack on my audience when I describe my plan for begging for money before entering the gas station. Backpacks are most effective when a plan does not work.
Breadcrumbs: Storytellers use Breadcrumbs when we hint at a future event but only reveal enough to keep the audience guessing. In “Charity Thief,” I drop a Breadcrumb when I say: “But as I climb back into the car, I see my crumpled McDonald’s uniform on the backseat, and I suddenly have an idea.” The trick is to choose the Breadcrumbs that create the most wonder in the minds of your audience without giving them enough to guess correctly. Breadcrumbs are particularly effective when the truly unexpected is coming.
Hourglasses: There comes a time in many stories when you reached a moment (or the moment) that the audience has been waiting for. This is the moment to use an Hourglass. It’s time to slow things down. Grind them to a halt when possible. We all know what a McDonald’s uniform looks like, yet (in “Charity Thief”) I choose to describe it anyway, in the greatest detail. This is because I have my audience now. I own them. They cannot wait for that blue door to open so the unknown can become known.
Crystal Balls: A Crystal Ball is a false prediction made by a storyteller to cause the audience to wonder if the prediction will prove to be true. In “Charity Thief,” I say:
[The man] points his finger at me and says, “You stay right there.” Then he walks back into his house, and I know what he’s doing. He’s calling the police, and they will come and arrest me for stealing money from McDonald’s.
In storytelling, deploy Crystal Balls strategically: Only when your prediction seems possible. Only when your guess is reasonable. And only when your prediction presents an intriguing or exciting possibility.
Permissible Lies of Storytelling
Lie #1: Omission: If a person doesn’t fill a role in your story, simply pretend that person wasn’t there.
Lie #2: Compression: …In reality, my sister and I planned the jump on one day and I executed it the next. But why stretch out a story over the course of two days when nothing of consequence happens between the planning and execution? It’s easier for an audience to see and understand my story if all the events take place within a single afternoon. My Saturday-Sunday story becomes a Saturday-afternoon story.
There are more 3 lies mentioned in the book.
Cinema of the Mind
A great storyteller creates a movie in the mind of the audience. At no point should the story become visually obscured or impossible to see. In order to achieve this lofty goal, storytellers must do one thing, and happily for you, it’s exceedingly simple: Always provide a physical location for every moment of your story.
Version #1: My grandmother’s name is Odelie Dicks, which probably explains why she is who she is. She’s a crooked old lady in both body and mind. She wears only dark colors and likes to serve food that has stewed in pots for days. I like to imagine that there was a time in her life when she smiled — or at least didn’t scowl — but if that time existed, it was long before me.
Version #2 I’m standing at the edge of my grandmother’s garden, watching her relentlessly pull weeds from the unforgiving soil. My grandmother’s name is Odelie Dicks, which probably explains why she is who she is. She’s a crooked old lady in both body and mind. She wears only dark colors and likes to serve food that has stewed in pots for days. I like to imagine that there was a time in her life when she smiled — or at least didn’t scowl — but if that time existed, it was long before me.
One of these versions is the beginning of a story. The other sounds more like the beginning of an essay.
The Principle of But and Therefore
A clear majority of human beings tend to connect their sentences, paragraphs, and scenes together with the word and. This is a mistake. The ideal connective tissue in any story are the words but and therefore, along with all their glorious synonyms. These buts and therefores can be either explicit or implied.
There Is Only One Way to Make Someone Cry
When it comes to storytelling, I believe that surprise is the only way to elicit an emotional reaction from your audience. Whether it’s laughter, tears, anger, sadness, outrage, or any other emotional response, the key is surprise.
In “This Is Going to Suck”, I enhance the collision surprise through contrast. I paint a very different picture (beautiful and calm picture) of the world right before the collision.
Common mistakes that storytellers make that ruin surprise include:
- Presenting a thesis statement prior to the surprise. This often takes the form of an opening sentence that gives away all that is surprising about the story like “This is a story about a time in my life when my friends became my family.” and “This is a story about a car accident so serious that it took my life, if only for a moment.”
- Failing to hide critical information in a story. As storytellers, we must hide pertinent information from our audiences to allow the surprise to pay off later. You can hide important moment in two ways:
- Hiding the Bomb in the Clutter: Hide important moments by making them seem unimportant.
- Camouflage: Laughter is an excellent way to hide something important. The laugh line makes the moment feel like a storyteller’s attempt at a joke instead of the conveying of a critical bit of information.
Milk Cans and Baseballs, Babies and Blenders: Simple, Effective Ways to Be Funny in Storytelling
Even non-funny stories can have funny moments like “This is Going to Suck”.
Milk Cans and a Baseball: The trick is to work to the laugh by using language that carefully builds your tower while saving the funniest thing for last. Sadly, the instinct of most people is to say the funniest thing first. For example, in a story entitled “Homeless and the Goat,” I tell the story about the period of my life when I was homeless. Near the end I say, “I was rescued from the streets by a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I sleep in a pantry off their kitchen that they’ve converted into a tiny bedroom. I share this room with a Jehovah’s Witness named Rick, a guy who speaks in tongues in his sleep, and the family’s indoor pet goat.” Goat is funny, but it’s only funny when said properly. When my friends tell this story on my behalf, they kill the humor. They kill it because they can’t wait to say the word goat.
Babies and Blenders: Babies and Blenders is the idea that when two things that rarely or never go together are pushed together, humor often results. …This always gets a laugh, because three-year-old boys are rarely described as assholes, especially after being described as sweet, angelic, and little. In the story about the way that my grandmother pulled my loose teeth, I refer to her as a sadist. Grandmother and sadist are rarely seen together, so it’s funny.
The Present Tense Is King
…Do you feel as if you’re on the train with me? I’m loading you up with sensory information. The sounds and sights and feel of the train. Another strategy that I’m using to put you on this train with me is the use of the present tense.
Some storytellers are able to see their stories. As they tell it, they almost relive the moments. Rather than staring into the eyes of their audience, their minds recreate a vision of the events as they unfold.
The Two Ways of Telling a Hero Story
There is nothing wrong with sharing your success stories, but they are hard stories to tell well. The truth is this: failure is more engaging than success. Nevertheless, there are times when you might want to tell a success story, and when you do, there are two strategies that I suggest you employ.
- Malign yourself.
- Marginalize your accomplishment.
…Why do I open my story with this moment? I want to be sure that my audience knows that I’m not perfect, nor am I pretending to be. I’m not the best teacher in the world. Not even close. I may save a girl’s life, but I also struck a child with flying footwear. I marginalize myself. I cast myself as the underdog by sharing a highly imperfect moment of teaching, so I can tell you about the closer-to-perfect one later. I maligned myself by admitting I’d thrown a shoe at a student. I marginalized my accomplishment by pointing out that while I may have saved Lisa, I had failed to save the many who came before her.
Human beings love underdog stories. The love for the underdog is universal. Underdogs are supposed to lose, so when they manage to pull out an unexpected or unbelievable victory, our sense of joy is more intense than if that same underdog suffers a crushing defeat.
…This is how to tell a success story: Rather than telling a story of your full and complete accomplishment, tell the story of a small part of the success.
Time to Perform
It’s hard to be authentic and vulnerable when you’re reciting lines. It’s also obvious to an audience when a storyteller is simply reciting a story instead of telling a story. Instead of memorizing your story word-for-word, memorize three parts to a story:
- The first few sentences. Always start strong.
- The last few sentences. Always end strong.
- The scenes of your story.
When you can see your audience — in a classroom, a conference room, your aunt’s kitchen, a reception hall, or a faculty meeting — eye contact is important. You can’t speak to the middle distance and expect your audience to connect. My suggestion is this: Find a person on your left, a person on your right, and a person dead center who likes you. These will be the people who are smiling. Nodding. Laughing. Use these three people as your guideposts. Make eye contact with them, and the people in each of those areas will feel you are attending to them as well.