Key Elements of Good Storytelling

cave painting storytellingWho doesn’t like a good story? Humans have been telling stories since we were Cavemen gathered around a fire, but what makes a story good? In a word – trouble.

If I told you Bob woke up, ate breakfast, went to work, looked at a computer all day and then came home to watch TV until bedtime, what would you think of my “story?”

Pretty boring, right? Nothing happened! Who cares?

But what if I said Bob woke up, found only an empty cereal box, went to work hungry and discovered all his co-workers were standing outside. The fire department had evacuated the building after a suspicious package was spotted under Bob’s desk. Now Bob’s day becomes a little more interesting. Why? There’s a hint of trouble in Bob’s world!

Without some tension in the tale, the reader, listener or viewer won’t feel anything. You want your story to pique their curiosity and stoke their imagination. You want to make them care. What’s going on? What will happen next? How will Bob cope with what’s to come?

Stories are incredibly powerful.

Audiences can live vicariously through good stories without risking anything. We can empathize with a character to the point of not distinguishing between the story experience and how we feel in real life. It’s why sad movies and books, even radio stories can make us cry. Telling ourselves, “it’s only a movie” doesn’t change the way we FEEL.

I’m no scientist but apparently the human brain is wired for stories. Researchers have found the same spots in the brain light up whether it’s our experience or happening in a story.

What are the basic elements of a story?

You introduce the main character or hero and give them a problem. The story springs from the conflict and how the character struggles to resolve it or doesn’t! Plays, movies, books all use this formula. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction, a comedy or a drama, whether it’s set in Ancient Greece or Outer Space. It’s just a natural way to tell a story.

What does this mean to you?

Storytelling is one of the best communication skills a leader can have and understanding this familiar story structure can help you tell better stories whether you’re speaking, writing, producing video or telling stories on the radio. I craft stories for a living and have found some people know how to tell good stories instinctively while other must work at it.

The point is to get your audience to emotionally connect with the struggle of the central character, whether you’re sharing personal stories or storytelling for business. You can complicate it, add other elements but always tell a story that takes the audience on a journey of discovery. Show them how you, or better yet your client, as the hero battle to beat the odds, slay the dragon, win the race or solve the business problem.

I don’t know what kinds of stories you want to tell or for what purpose. I’d need to ask some questions and listen to you to learn more about your life and work. What I do know is without an obstacle to overcome, great or small, there is no story. And to fix that, you need to go looking for trouble.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

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Janet Vasil

Media Interview and On-Camera Trainer at Vasil Media Group | Your Media Moment & Beyond
Media Trainer, Executive Speaker Coach and Video Storyteller Janet Vasil is an award-winning, EMMY®-nominated TV Journalist who Helps Leaders Communicate with Impact On Camera, On Stage and In the Media. Contact at

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