Tag Archives: Storytelling

Ira Glass on Storytelling

I ran across this earlier this week and it reminded me of of the “why are you telling me this?” quote I posted a while back.

The I-don’t-have-5-minutes-to watch version:

  • A story has two key building blocks 1) an anecdote and 2) a moment of reflection.
  • An anecdote is a sequence of actions.
  • Start with the action! Raise a question from the beginning. Keep raising questions. If you raise a question, it implies you’re going to answer it at some point. This is what keeps people watching/listening/reading.*
  • The moment of reflection is the point of the story. It’s the “why are you telling me this?” part.
  • You need both!
  • In a good story, you flip back and forth between the two.

*I agree this is what gives a story momentum, but at the same time I don’t think all questions need to be explicitly answered in stories. In fact, I prefer if they aren’t. You’ve got to leave something for your audience to figure out on their own / argue about for decades 😉


What storytellers are supposed to do

Being anxious is very much like being watched – by another, by your partner, by the world, by yourself. Anxiety is about sprinting ahead, spinning tales and stories and the long, long train of endless possibilities. It’s what storytellers are supposed to do; useful during the act of writing, not so useful in the living of a non-panicked life. Anxious people are in search of a scroll; a scroll that can be rolled out to tell us the meaning of all that has already happened and warn us of what is to come. We are imaginative people who carve something out of nothing and yet we’re still in search of the Oracle. No wonder we’re a little bit unsteady, a little bit on edge.

Emily Rapp

Fiction betrays life

Real life flows without pause, lacks order, is chaotic, each story merging with all stories and hence never having a beginning or ending. Life in a work of fiction is a simulation in which that dizzying disorder achieves order, organization, cause and effect, beginning and end. The scope of a novel isn’t determined merely by the language in which it’s written but also by its temporal scheme, the manner in which existence transpires within it – its pauses and accelerations and the chronological perspective employed by the narrator to describe that narrated time.

Though there is a distance between words and events, there is always an abyss between real time and fictional time. … Novels have a beginning and an end and, even in the loosest and most disjointed ones, life takes on a discernible meaning, for we are presented with a perspective never provided by the real life in which we’re immersed. This order is an invention, an addition of the novelist, that dissembler who appears to recreate life when, in fact, he is rectifying it. Fiction betrays life, sometimes subtly, sometimes brutally, encapsulating it in a weft of words that reduce it in scale and place it within the reader’s reach. Thus the reader can judge it, understand it and, above all, live it with an impunity not granted him in real life.

Mario Varga Llosa

Tell a Story

Every piece of writing should tell a story.   This is as true for a report for my boss … as it is for an essay that I may be preparing for print, or a tale about Josie that I post here.   Same thing for any kind of a presentation that I might do for a conference:  What’s the plot?  Who are the characters?  Where’s the dynamic tension?  How do I want the audience to feel when they’ve come to the end?

T. Scott Plutchak

In bits between the pages

When you read a book, it is a story within the story. The French call this mise-en-abîm: the condition of being between two mirrors with an abyss of yous staring back.

You turn the page of the fictional story while an hour of your own passes. The characters breathe, laugh and cry, and so do you. When you finish their tale, you close the book and set it aside, dreaming of their ever-after, while stepping out into yours. But you don’t leave the story as you found it. No, it’s forever changed. The evidence is there: a chocolate smudge, a tea stain, beach sand, dandelion spores, a stray hair, a note, a name, a message. The story has been splintered into a duplicate image, a reflection of you in bits between the pages.

Sarah McCoy

Definition of “writing”

[L]anguage and the books they compose may die, but storytelling never will. Like song and dance, stories are eternal to how we humans communicate and express ourselves. People will always write because they will always have something to say. Or teach. Or discover. For a long time, this has been accomplished with bound books, with paper and ink. And for a long time, it will continue to be.

Forget e-books—they are a question of format, not content. These devices, similar to online literary journals like this one, are simply the first primordial steps in a specialization that will change how the written word tells stories for future generations.

In the same way that the modern art movement called into question what it meant to call something “art,” this will be an era that both challenges our static definition of “writing” and redefines the relationship between “writer” and “reader.” It will change who publishes, how they publish, and what form they publish in.

Michael Rudin

The true rules that need to be followed are artistic ones

It is the nature of memoir and essay that memory is telling the story and these forms will never be as clean as journalism.  In the best literary nonfiction the true rules that need to be followed are artistic ones.  Those rules are developed in each individual book by each individual artist, and they should be judged that way, individually, not in a great hue and cry of moralistic oversimplification.  Yes, it is wise for writers of memoir to hew as closely as they can to the facts.  But my worry is that we will, as usual, overreact and learn too literal of a lesson.  That in rushing to rein things in we will choke off what is creative and alive in the form.

Dave Gessner


The objects don’t tell the whole story though, just as a view through a window doesn’t, or a bookshelf, or any infinite number of Facebook albums– but why are these things so compelling all the same?

I wonder if– outside of fictional realms– such fragments come closer to a kind of truth than anything else can? And I wonder how much of the pleasure lies in making the connections by ourselves.

Kerry Clare