Telling Stories – Two Structures You Can Use To Tell Them Better

The Field

I used to be a bad story teller. Not that anyone ever told me this, but observing how engaged people are when my brother or uncle would tell stories I noticed I did not get the same from a crowd.

Coming off the heels of the famed 30th annual Catskill Wiffleball Tournament something stood out in my mind: once you get a group of guys together around a campfire or at a dinner table, stories start flowing.

In my first job out of school I learned about being a good conversationalist: ask questions about someone (i.e. family, home town, favorite hobby/sport/food, job, travel, etc.) until you find a point of mutual interest, then expand on that. Although this was great in one-on-one, it won’t give a group a memorable laugh around a dinner table or a group of guys your attention around the campfire. So I learned a little about telling stories, it seems to have gotten some good laughs & attention lately – so I am here to share it with you now.

Basic structure of a short story you can tell which I find to be great for funny stories:

  • Setup – keep it very brief, use the minimum effective dose of information to get your audience up to speed on where the story is taking place.
  • Pattern – establish a pattern the story will violate.
  • Foreshadow – leave some clues on where the story is going.
  • The Characters – very brief character trait of the personalities involved.
  • The Twist – this is what turns a regurgitation of an event into a story. Have a plot twist and tie a bow on it with a punch line or lesson/thought to close with.

Of course there is also the classic “hero’s journey” story structure:

  • Context – backstory into the hero’s world.
  • Catalyst – the event that changes something in the hero’s world.
  • Complication – the obstacle that the hero must overcome.
  • Change – the transformation the hero has on their path.
  • Consequence – the resolution and how it has changed the hero’s world.

Just like any skill, some people seem to “naturally” be good at it but just about anyone can become great with deliberate practice.

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