The art of the telling & creating the short story
All stories are essentially a variation on the narrative structure:-
  • character
  • setting
  • problem
  • resolution.

So, in a lot of ways, there is nothing very special or difficult about telling or creating a short story. Really, you have to do the same basic things as a longer story with a few variations.

Basic Rules of Telling a Story Well

  1. Be interested in the story yourself and tell it with energy and some level of excitement.
  2. Bring the characters in the story alive with
    • different voices (not too many - 2 or 3 max.)
    • mannerisms
    • energy
    • description
    • body language.
  3. Vary the amount of detail or description you add to elements of the story such as the characters, setting and problem. Include enough so that the audience is able to use their imagination to create these elements in their own imagination but not so much that the audience has nothing left to do.
  4. Tell with feeling. Let the different feelings that are being expressed in the story be expressed in your voice, body language, gesture, facial expression.
  5. Maintain good contact with your audience and be prepared to vary your telling depending on how you audience is responding. Variations can include:
    • how much feeling
    • how much description
    • volume of sound
    • pace
    • length of pauses
    • how much your narrator interacts with the audience outside of the story itself.
  6. Keep your narrator alive and interacting with the audience to some degree.

Variations for Telling a Short Story

  1. Be prepared to moderate your own energy and presence a little so that it doesn't dominate the story itself. The audience wants to hear and be in the story as well as enjoy you.
  2. Cut down on the degree of detail you put in for some of the elements. For example:- 'One day last year, I was walking out of the school gate .........' contains a lot of 'story' information, sufficient to enable the audience to start creating the scene.
  3. Be prepared to cut back (not eliminate) the expression of feelings in the story. They still need to be there but you might not express them for as long for example.
  4. Be prepared to place more emphasis on the setting out of the problem and the presentation of the solution. The story is short so your audience may miss these essential elements if you don't put sufficient attention on them.
  5. Be prepared to cut back on your narrator's role. You want the audience to concentrate on the story not your introduction of it, or an asside in the middle of it.

Basic Rules for Creating or Improvising a Story

The most important thing to remember is the Narrative Structure. It's your friend and safety net. With the Narrative Structure you can create an interesting story about anything.

It's a special story code that enables you to contain a story in an interesting way. Just like a road map can't possible describe or present every single feature along the way from point A to point B or it would be so huge it would never fit in the car let alone the glove box, so you must choose which things to leave in the story and which things to leave out.

The good news is that the Narrative Structure contains the basic code.

  • always have a least one character (although you'll probably end up with two)
  • always have a setting no matter how minimal.
  • always have at least one problem to solve and
  • always have a solution or resolution.

Do the above and you'll always have a story but will it be a good story? No, not necessarily.

What will make a story 'good', or 'interesting', or 'fascinating'?
Lots of things will help and here is where your individual style as a storyteller and story creator comes to the fore. Build on your own style, character or, even, quirkiness. Here are just some other factors:

  • choose stories that you find interesting in the first place and you will be more likely to create and tell it in an interesting way
  • pick a story who's subject matter is going to appeal to your audience
  • bring at least one of your characters alive in some way
  • don't forget emotions
  • make sure the story moves or goes somewhere (movement is a sign of life and humans are interested in things that are alive)
  • take risks with the story content, say 'yes' to a subconscious idea that pops into your head (you know, when you think, 'Hey what if ............') and put it into the story and see where it goes
    • if you find that your story is bogging down and getting sludgy it is probably because you have said, 'Oh no, I couldn't possibly put that in the story!' in your mind, so go back to that point and say 'Yes! Let's try it!' and see what happens
  • don't just solve the problem in a mechanical, 'So what?' sort of way, turn the solution into an interesting or quirky 'resolution'.

What makes an interesting resolution? Here's just some possibilites.

    • a classic way is to end the story where it began (you know, have the same character doing the same thing but with a twist)
    • have the solution appeal to the audience's sense of humour
    • bring in your narrator with something like - "And do you know what, I never did get to 'blah, blah, blah' that .........."
    • neatly solve the problem, tie up all the loose ends, and have the characters live happily ever after
    • ditto but for one little detail that lets the audience know that the story continues in another time, another place.

However, the most important thing of all is, 'Dah! Da! Da! Daaaaah!' have fun.

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© 2004 Daryll Bellingham. One copy of the above notes are available for your personal use for developing your storytelling skills. If you would like to copy them, or publish them in whole or in part please seek my permission.

Daryll Bellingham, Storyteller
P.O. Box 5300, West End, Q4101, 
Brisbane, Australia
Tel. 61 (0)7 3846 3135
Mob. 0417 478408
All contents copyright © 1998, Daryll Bellingham. All rights reserved.
Last update: 14th September, 2004.
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