What’s in a story?

A start, middle and end. A journey told. Lessons unveiled. Questions unearthed. Truths revealed.

Is this the essence of a story, or is there more? What makes a story powerful and transformative?

They’re just words after all, right?

Wrong. So very wrong actually.

 
Words change the world, really, they do. Through the stories that carry our words, we can shift thoughts and perceptions, and educate in a way that compels belief and action.

Consider how a story of vibrant health and wellbeing inspired you to rethink the foods you choose to eat and how you treat your body. Or how a story of resettlement to an unknown and foreign country after years of political asylum made you really appreciate your home and safety. Or how documented stories of families embracing plastic-free living inspired you to do the same, saving the lives of countless animals and plants.

Our stories – on a moment to moment basis – are affecting social and cultural change, starting with one reader (or listener) at time.

 
Our stories are a radical platform for empowerment and leadership. I believe (and know) this to be true.

In fact, I built a business centred on the story – the conversation – the narrative.

 
Stories bring people together from all walks of life and encourage us to connect. Connection that is deep, meaningful and inclusive.

You know that documentary you watched, that blog post you read, that novel you devoured, the conversation you had with the lady on the bus, the bed time tales you were told, the jokes your uncle shares, the deep secret your best friend revealed – they’re all stories.

What do they all have in common? They remind you that you are human and part of one grand community, a global one as a matter of fact.

What's in a story?

So again, what’s in a story?

 
This question has been bouncing around the walls of my brain for some time now (and has lodged itself in the seat of my heart) and its time to debunk its meaning.

I want you to take a moment and think of the stories you love. Maybe you can recall one in particular.

How does it make you feel? What memories or thought bubbles does it conjure?

Do you feel inspired? Uplifted? Safe? United? Whimsical? Supported? Connected?

Why? Why does the story make you feel this way? Is it the way it is told? The subject of the story itself? The events that took place? Or has it got something to do with the storyteller?

I’m guessing – above all else – it is more to do with the latter.

Storytelling is an art. A good storyteller will have one question on their mind: How can I pull in my audience and make them feel connected?

That’s the crux.

Connection.

 
Whether the story is written or spoken, telling a story will relay clear experiences in a way that resonates with you. A good storyteller though will be able to tell the same story in the same way and still be able to resonate with someone who is vastly different from you.

That’s the art, the skill.

Did I mention stories have power?!

 
Now, what about the other types of stories? The stories you are scared to tell.

The ones that make your voice quiver and your fingers tremble at the keyboard?

The stories – that really matter – but you’re fearful of people’s reaction and what the mainstream will have to say because it goes against the status quo.

The story you’re worried will be over-ridden by the dominant narrative; those stories that plague our societies and tell us that our opinion doesn’t matter, that ‘boat people’ are not welcome, that youth are too young to be change agents, that your gender determines your access to opportunity, that religions divide, that the elderly no longer have an important voice to contribute, that sexuality is black and white, that our earth will continue to supports us despite our continued abuse.

Those types of stories that are designed to protect the power and privilege of the people who have it.

 
The dominant narrative has silenced us for too long, but times are changing.

What's in a story?

Storytelling has been democratised. With the internet at our finger tips and online spaces for self-expression, most of us can speak freely. And for those that can’t, we have an obligation to share their stories too.

So how do we change the dominant narrative?

We tell the real stories. The stories that need to be heard.

Why?

 
Because when we change the story, we change the world. We change the dominant narrative that has sustained injustice for so long by re-writing our stories to elevate justice for all.

If you believe in a story, you have a duty to share it. To educate and enlighten. To empower those who are open and willing to learn.

Every single person – no matter how ‘good’ you are as a writer – can tell a powerful story.

 
Stories that question, probe and get to the root of the reason.

So how do you tell a story that connects? That over-rides the dominant narrative?

 

  • You tell honest accounts of people lives, as uncomfortable as they may be
  • You garner a close and respectful relationship with the person whose story you are telling
  • You identify the story’s trigger point – the underlying message that needs to be heard – and take your audience on the journey in a way they can relate
  • You retell the experience as accurately and consistently as you can
  • You collaborate on the story. You share the draft and ask for their thoughts and feedback and collectively tell the story
  • You only tell stories that are aligned with your core values and beliefs
  • You practice the art and play with the art. You have fun and experiment with the many different ways you can tell a story
  • You consult your audience and ask for their feedback. What are they learning?
  • You never stop telling stories. Your job as a storyteller will never be complete
Question: What story are you going to tell? What cannot be silenced anymore?
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