In the previous post, we discussed the main elements that make up a compelling story. Now it’s time to put these elements into action. To make the process a little bit easier, let’s break it down into seven simple, actionable steps:
Step 1: Start With the End in Mind
Think of the message you want to get across to your audience, what are the feelings you want to evoke? What action, if any, do you want them to take? How will your story be worth their time? Make sure to write everything down.
Step 2: Let It All Out
Once you have these questions sorted out, start putting all the details together that work up to the end. Don’t worry about hooks or all that fancy stuff just yet, you are still at the “puking” stage as I like to call it. In this stage, you just need to “throw up” all you have in your head onto the page, get it all out there, don’t leave out a thing and don’t slow yourself down with editing or refining your text. Your brain operates in two separate modes: The Writing Mode and the Editing mode. If you are constantly switching between these two modes, you are not only breaking your creative flow, but you are also paying the mental price of switching between task, which takes a toll on your productivity and focus. This is what research calls the Switching Cost of Multitasking. Once I learned this principle, it completely transformed my approach towards writing and my creative work in general. It’s not easy to ignore the urge to stop and edit every second, but once I did so, the difference was night and day.
Step 3: Recognize the Pattern
Read your story from end to end. Typically, most stories fall into familiar patterns. These patterns are often called Story Archetypes. Examples of story archetypes include overcoming obstacles, where you (or your main character) hit a roadblock, and after rough struggles and frustrations you challenged your assumptions, you changed, evolved and managed to overcome this struggle. You have managed to cross over to the other side as a better and stronger version of yourself.
Another example is a Quest archetype, this is a story of a never-ending pursue after something or someone. There are many challenges and obstacles in the way, but you are focused and determined to succeed, you are on a mission, and you call others to join you on this quest for the sake of a bigger calling. If you want to learn more about story archetypes and how they fit into your story, I highly recommend taking Keith Yamashita’s “Storytelling for Leaders” course on Skillshare, I put a link down in the resources section below.
Once you identified your story archetype, you can start to see the narrative of your story – the common thread that supports the main idea or message throughout the plot.
Step 4: Cut Through The Living Flesh
This is the stage where you omit all the unnecessary details that don’t serve your narrative well. Remove the obvious parts and leave some gaps in your story, so that your audience could put 2+2 together and figure things out on their own. You can also add details that do serve your narrative if needed, but always remember the quote that goes along the lines of: “A good writer writes. An excellent writer omits”, unfortunately, I couldn’t track down the source. The important thing is not getting attached to the pieces you worked on which don’t make sense to keep. Be merciless.
Step 5: Mix & Match
This is where you get creative and get to reorder the sequence of events of your story. The story doesn’t have to be linear, it can take place in a few dimensions separately, like in the past, present, and future. It can happen in a few places and through different character points of view. Having a non-linear development in your story makes it more intriguing and keeps your audience engaged trying to figure things out. Think of all the good thrillers you watched, or the books that you couldn’t put down, did any of them developed linearly? Probably not.
A great technique is to use simple Post It notes when you are sequencing. I just jot down the current sequence of events in the story and post them on my window. Then start to mix and match, see what will work best to create more tension and sophistication. You don’t want to overdo it though as you want to keep the main thread going forward. If you jump between too many dimensions often and without logical order, it can create confusion and frustration.
Step 6: Get Feedback and Refine
This is the money time, the most critical stage of your work. It’s time to get your story out there and see how your audience react. Get their feedback and try to figure out what worked and what didn’t. The more people you will share your story with, the better you will understand how to refine it and get your message across more accurately. You will know what parts people mostly react to, and what parts they didn’t resonate with. It’s a great learning experience. Once you gathered enough feedback you will recognize common patterns, which will help you get back to the drawing board and adjust your story.
That’s it, I hope you have found this post useful. Now go out there and tell your story to the world!
Want to learn more?
Here are some great resources that will help you get started:
- Storytelling for Leaders: How to Craft Stories That Matter | Online course on SkillShare by Keith Yamashita
- Communicate Ideas Through Story | Online course on SkillShare by Alissa Demirjian
- The magical science of storytelling | TED talk by David JP Phillips
- Clues to a Great Story | TED talk by Andrew Stanton
- What Explains The Rise Of Humans? | Yuval Noah Hararri TED talk