Writing Tips: Storytelling in the Eyes of Other Storytellers

The Weekly Writing Tips are a collection of best practices for writing and reporting at Global Voices. April's tips are brought to you by Elizabeth Rivera, Latin America editor.

As news storytellers, the responsibility of engaging the audience rests 100% on us. Sometimes we have a great topic that we are passionate about, but we find it hard to translate that into compelling words. To make things more complicated, many times there are tons of facts unknown to a global audience that they need to know to understand the point of our piece.

Each week, we've been reviewing some great tips about writing and journalism. But there are a lot of types of storytelling (cinema, marketing, children books, stand-up comedy, songs, etc.) so I thought this month, we could take a look outside of our news writers circle to find refreshing angles and solutions on how to tell a story.

This week, I'll leave you with a Ted talk by filmmaker Andrew Stanton (“Toy Story,” “WALL-E”) in which he shares what he knows about storytelling — starting at the end and working back to the beginning. (If you prefer to watch in a language other than English, or with subtitles, visit the original Ted Talk)

Here are some highlights of the talk:

Storytelling is joke telling

Storytelling is joke telling. It's knowing your punchline, your ending, knowing that everything you're saying, from the first sentence to the last, is leading to a singular goal, and ideally confirming some truth that deepens our understandings of who we are as human beings.

We all love stories

We all love stories. We're born for them. Stories affirm who we are. We all want affirmations that our lives have meaning. And nothing does a greater affirmation than when we connect through stories. It can cross the barriers of time, past, present and future, and allow us to experience the similarities between ourselves and through others, real and imagined.

Make me care

The greatest story commandment is “Make me care” – please, emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically, just make me care. We all know what it's like to not care. You've gone through hundreds of TV channels, just switching channel after channel, and then suddenly you actually stop on one. It's already halfway over, but something's caught you and you're drawn in and you care. That's not by chance, that's by design.

Give the reader a promise

It's making a promise to you that this story will lead somewhere that's worth your time. And that's what all good stories should do at the beginning, is they should give you a promise. You could do it an infinite amount of ways. Sometimes it's as simple as “Once upon a time … “

Make your audience work for their meal

That's your job as a storyteller, is to hide the fact that you're making them work for their meal. We're born problem solvers. We're compelled to deduce and to deduct, because that's what we do in real life. It's this well-organized absence of information that draws us in. 

Make the audience put things together. Don't give them four, give them two plus two. The elements you provide and the order you place them in is crucial to whether you succeed or fail at engaging the audience.

Construct anticipation

When you're telling a story, have you constructed anticipation? In the short-term, have you made me want to know what will happen next? But more importantly, have you made me want to know how it will all conclude in the long-term?

Use what you know

Use what you know. Draw from it. It doesn't always mean plot or fact. It means capturing a truth from your experiencing it, expressing values you personally feel deep down in your core

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