Storytelling elements and secrets are hiding in plain sight
Storytelling has a lot of guidelines and rules. And storytellers can't always explain what they're doing?
And yet, they're incredibly powerful. Like for instance, the concept of “anticipation” before the “problem”. It's nowhere to be found?
Unless of course you listen to this episode on how to tell riveting stories.
In this episode Sean talks about how to create stories that are very powerful.
Part 1: How the ‘The Wall’ changes the pace of a story
Part 2: The power in using the ’The Reconnect’
Part 3: Why anticipation is so critical in storytelling
Earlier Recording: Right click and ‘save as’ to download this episode
Re-Release: Right click and ‘save as’ to download this episode
“This transcript hasn’t been checked for typos, so you may well find some. If you do, let us know and we’ll be sure to fix them.”
This is The 3 Month Vacation, and I'm Sean D'Souza.
I was about 2 years old when I first had a bout of convulsions. It didn't start up as convulsions. I was standing there on the balcony, looking out on the road, and then I fell off the stool that I was standing on. As the story goes, I ran to my mother. She noticed that
I was having convulsions, and she panicked. Now, panic would be the wrong word to use because what she did next was bundled me in her arms and ran with me to the hospital.
To put you in the frame of mind of what India was when I was growing up, there were no phones or most people didn't have phones. They didn't have cars. You probably had a scooter if you were well off.
That's just how things were back then. What she had to do was run a distance of 2 kilometers, maybe 3 kilometers to get to the nearest hospital. When she got to the hospital, they wouldn't admit me because I had meningitis and the hospital was not in the position to deal with cases of meningitis. Somehow, she managed to get them to admit me.
At that point in time, they asked for the mother. Now, my mother was very young at that point in time and they assumed that she was somehow the sister. They said, “No. No. No.
You have to get the mother.” This is very odd in India because people tend to get married very early in India and yet they were insisting that they had to have the mother before they could go ahead with anything. There I was, not doing so well and the hospital authorities wouldn't go ahead without dealing with the mother.
Now, she convinced them but once they admitted me, there was one more problem. The doctor wasn't so sure that I would survive the meningitis. He told my parents, and by that point, my father was there as well. He said, “I have to tell you this. Your son will either die or he'll go mad.”
What you just heard was the story of my youth. The question is, why did you keep listening? Why did the story work? What is it that caused you to pay attention and not move away from the story?
In today's episode, we're going to cover storytelling elements: How to Avoid Boring Articles? The core of avoiding boring articles is to be able to tell stories, but stories are useful for presentations. They're useful for books. They're useful for webinars. They're useful for pretty much everything. What happens is most of us load up our information with facts and figures, and those are very tiring but stories, they encapsulate everything. We're going to learn how to create stories that are very powerful.
The 3 things we're going to cover today are one, the wall; second, the reconnect; and third, the anticipation.
Part 1: The Wall
Let's start off with the first one which is the wall. Every afternoon, every weekday, I go through the same routine. I pick up my niece from school. She's now 11, that's Marsha. We speak about stuff in the car. We do multiplication tables.
Recently, we've been doing storytelling. When I asked her, “Tell me of story about what happened in the weekend.” She goes, “Nothing.” Then I say, “What happened in class?” She goes, “Nothing.” This is the interesting part. You think that there's nothing happening in your life, but there is a lot happening all the time. Then, we have to zero in onto one little thing and make it interesting, just about anything becomes interesting in the way you dealt it.
I said, “Tell me about your piano class on Saturday.” Her little face brightens up and the smile comes on, and she goes, “I didn't practice before going to piano class on Saturday.
Then when I got to the piano class, I was really afraid because I thought I would the play the piece really badly. But as it appears, I played quite well. In fact, I played it so well that the piano teacher said, ‘I'm going to put you on a more advanced piece.' Of course, once she gave me the advanced piece, I couldn't play it. She said, ‘No. No. No. No. No. You're playing it in the wrong key.' I should try to play in the right key, but it didn't worked.”
The piano teacher gave her another chance. Of course, she was not playing the piece well, so they went back to the old piece, which is what she had practice. Marsha was quite happily playing her old piece, but playing it by ear, not reading the notes.
Happy as a lark when she looked at the corner of the room and there was her mother. According to Marsha, her mother was glaring at her because Marsha hadn't improved and she was back to square one. How could the day have been worse for Marsha?
Now, that was a really short story. Why would you hook in to the story? The reason the story works is because there were these little blips along the way, what we call the wall.
What is the wall? The wall is … Think of it as like a heart monitor. The heart monitor, when it's absolutely flat, will go “Beeeep.” There is no sound. Then when the heart is beating, it will “Dub dub, dub dub, dub dub.” There is this little spike that jumps in every now and then, and that creates a wall. That creates that fact that you know that your heart is actually working.
This is what happens in storytelling. Most people tell a story in a very boring fashion. The reason why they tell that is because their story would just go from one end to the other without the spikes.
What were the spikes in Marsha's story? The first spike was the fact that she was afraid she hadn't practiced. That got your attention. Then she went on to a new problem, which is that she had to go there to the class and then play a new piece. Then when she couldn't play that new piece, she ran into a whole bunch of problems. She was thrown back to the old piece, which was a good thing, at least, to Marsha's eyes but bad thing in the mother's eyes, which is why the mother was glaring at her from the corner of the room.
Then as Marsha finished the story, she says, “How could the day get worse?” This is a perfect, little story just told from one end to the other with all of these little blips, these little blips, the other wall. The other wall that you have to climb across so you can get into the alley and there's a wall there and you have to climb over that wall to get to the other side. This is what creates interest.
The wall can be an obstacle. It can be something funny. It can be something unusual. As long as it changes the pace of the story, it becomes the wall because you now have to get over that wall onto the other side before the story can continue. More stories don't run that way.
For instance, if we look at Marsha's story, we could say, “We went to piano class. On the way, I almost slipped in a banana peel, but then I recovered because I wasn't feeling so well. Anyway, I got to the class and I played my piece. Then, I played the second piece.”
You can see where the story is going, but at one point in time, when she slipped in the banana peel, you got that spike in your head. Even though you might not have thought about it at the time, there was that spike and you see the spike everywhere.
What's more important is the spike has been with you right since you heard your first story being read to you as a kid. If you look at something like Red Riding Hood, it's a very simple story.
The girl goes to her grandmother's house and she's got this bag of goodies that her mother has packed for the grandmother. What happens along the way? Red Riding Hood runs into the wolf. Before that, there was no problem at all. The forest was not that intimidating. She got flowers along the way. Then, along came the wolf. The wolf creates the spike in the story. Now, this is a wall that she has to get over. She has to solve that problem.
If you look at all the stories that you heard or have told your kids, you will find a consistency in this wall, this obstacle, which means that we have to create stories with these spikes, with these obstacles. Then, we have to climb over these obstacles or rather take the reader or the listener across the obstacle and then to the other side.
Here's what I do with Marsha. I make her sit down with a sheet of paper. Then I get her to draw a line across. At the starting point, she has, say, maybe she's going to piano class. The ending point is whatever happens at the end. In between, I get her to draw little dots or little spikes, whatever you want to call them, and she has to put in those obstacles. As soon as she puts in those obstacles, we fill in the rest later.
The point is once you identify those obstacles, you are able to turn out far better stories because now what you've done is you have created that bounce, you have created an obstacle, you have created a wall, and of course, people have to then go over it.
When I started out this podcast, I started out with a story about meningitis. I didn't spend time explaining to you how I was looking out of the window. I went straight into the bounce, straight into the wall. I had convulsions. I fell down. I then had to run to my mother. You have been thrown right in the middle of this bounce. Of course, the bounce didn't stop until we got to the hospital because now you're thinking, “Okay, things are going to get okay.” Then, we have another wall.
They won't admit me to the hospital. Then, we get over that wall. Now, they were asking for the mother because they don't believe that my mother was the mother, that they thought that she was the sister. Then, when all of those problems have been resolved, the doctor says the chances are not good. What we have of these bounces all along the way, these walls all along the way, and you have to cross over, get over these walls to create a great story. This is just the first element of storytelling.
Part 2: The Reconnect
The second one is the concept called the reconnect. What is the reconnect? Right at the end of the previous section, which is when I was talking about the wall, I went right back to the story of meningitis. Immediately, your brain went from wherever it was right back to that original story. This is what storytellers use very effectively. They use the reconnect.
They connect back to something they told you a while ago. It's very powerful because that creates a bounce of its own. It takes you from where you are to where you used to be. If you're to watch the movie Star Wars, there is this concept called the force. It's used the force. Luke used the force.
How many times does the word force show up in Star Wars? Apparently, more than 16 times. There you are in the cinema or watching the movie on a DVD or maybe on your computer, but you run into this concept of the force. Every time that reference to the force shows up and you don't really notice it, but it just shows up, it takes you back to wherever you originally heard it or saw it.
Why is this reconnection so cool? The first thing is that often, it makes you feel very intelligent. The story is set up in a way that you know what is coming. When it does arrive, it makes you feel extremely intelligent. That's what storytelling is about. It's about making the reader feel a lot happier or a lot sadder, that they use to feel. You can feel that happiness or sadness as I edge into the meningitis story. You know what is coming next. You know how that story ended. It makes you feel very intelligent. It makes the reader or the listener feel very intelligent.
The second thing it does is it creates bounce. It bounces you back to wherever you were, and that creates that spike. It's doing a dual job, but it does one more thing. It closes a loop. You can start off a story, and then knot in the story. Noticek what happened with my story. I can close that loop. I told you that the doctor said I would die or go mad. The loop wasn't closed. What you can do is if you're reconnecting at some point, you can close that loop. It's very trendy to keep the loop open, but it drives people crazy.
This morning, I was on my walk and I was listening to an audio book about the brain. This author was talking about how he was at a David Attenborough conference. He was sitting there with someone else. They were having a discussion. Then he went into the discussion. About 20 minutes later, I'm going, “What did David Attenborough had to do with it?” He never closed that loop, and he will never close that loop. It will leave that gap in my brain, and that's not a good thing. You want to create that disconnect, but then you want to reconnect later, you want to close that loop. That is the power of the reconnect.
Part 3: The Anticipation
With that, we go to the third part, where we talk about anticipation and why it's so critical in storytelling. We were doing our workshop in Campbell, California around the year 2006. One of the participants stood up. She was going to tell her story. She told us that her mother was very, very beautiful. She also told us that her sister was a lot like her mother.
She then went on to tell us how her father would take photographs, but photographs of the mother and the sister. Notice how we haven't completed that story. We haven't really told you what comes next, but the anticipation is killing because you know what comes next. This is the beauty of anticipation. You create anticipation knowing fully well that you're not leaving any gaps, but that the client, the listener, your reader is filling in the story, that 10%.
This is what Anil Dharker told me when I was growing up and I was just starting out in my cartooning career. Anil was the editor of a newspaper called Mid-day. I was drawing cartoons for that newspaper. One day, he came up to me and he says, “Sean, you're giving too much away.
You need to get the customer, the reader to anticipate that 10%. You're giving away 90% of the story, but you are getting them to anticipate the 10% because readers and listeners and clients are very intelligent. What you should do is leave out the bits. Don't give the entire story.”
Now, when you think about the advice you're getting here on this podcast, you think, “Wait a second, you just said not to leave out gaps.” Yes, you don't leave out the gaps. You reconnect, but you don't tell the entire story upfront either. We're taking the example, you got the story about the meningitis. You've got the story about how I got admitted to hospital. What happened next, you don't know the rest to that story. That gap hasn't been closed and yet you're intelligent enough to figure out that there was an ending and how that ending shows up, that we'll find out.
The reason why we have anticipation is because it creates suspense, it creates unknowing suspense. When you say the boy got on the bus, he would never get off. What you're doing is you're going into the brain of the customer and they can see something bad unfolding.
When I told you about that father that never took photographs of one of the daughters, you could see that insecurity building up. You could see that loneliness, that detachment. No one had to explain that you, but you can do this very simply by saying, “I woke up expecting it to be a great day.” Within those few words, you have already created anticipation. The reader knows, the listener knows that it's not going to be a great day.
How is it going to unfold? These are the lines that you have to put in your speech, in your presentation, in your writing because when you put in these lines, they create that pause, they create that white space, they create that breathing space. It allows the reader to anticipate what's going to happen next.
How is it going to twist and turn? Into Marsha's story, where she talks about just how she went to piano class, she could say, “I thought it was going to be a very bad day.” Immediately, your mind goes [whizzing 00:19:00] forward to, “Wait, she said bad day but she didn't sound like it was going to be a bad day. Did it turn out to be a bad day or not?”
When she got to the piano class and she was able to play, now you're relaxing. Then she puts in the other spike, and she goes, “I played that piece really well.” That created another problem for me. You notice what's happening, the anticipation is setting you up for that spike, the problem that comes next. For us, the anticipation, then the problem. The anticipation, then the problem.
Really this is what you have to do when you're writing great stories. You have to get the reader in the framework, in that frame of mind so that they know that there is something going to change, something I was about to open the drawer when or I walked down the garden, expecting it to be a completely miserable day. It had been raining all morning. You know, even though you don't know the story is going to unfold, you know that there is going to be a change. You're creating anticipation. You're creating that space for the reader and the listener to fill in the gaps in the head. That makes them again feel very intelligent. It also sets it up for that spike that we talked about in the first section.
What we've covered in today's podcast has been 3 things. The first thing has been the wall. The wall creates those spikes. It creates that drama. It creates all of those blips that cause you to pay attention to the story. The second thing we looked at was the reconnect. How we start of something at the beginning; then somewhere in the middle, we connect; and then, we connect at the end, and there are these connections all over.
If you listen to Episode #54, you can hear all of these connects. Go back to Episode #54 and you can see all these reconnects, walls, and anticipation. Of course, that takes us to anticipation, which is that moment that tells you that something is going to change. It creates the suspense. It's very, very powerful in storytelling. It's this breathing space, this quiet just before the storm.
What's the one thing that you can do today? The one thing that you can do today is go back to Episode #54 and listen to that episode because I listened to it just a few days ago. It has all of the stuff. Most of the podcast have it, but I just listened to Episode #54, so I know it's there, so go back and listen to it. You will see that the wall, the reconnect and the anticipation is there. You'll get a much better idea because you'll be able to know in advance when that's showing up.
I had mentioned that we were going to do some workshops in Nashville, Tennessee and in Amsterdam, which is in the Netherlands. We are still looking for a venue. If you know some venues, let us know. In the meantime, if you would like to sign up for a storytelling workshop, then just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will send you more details. It's still work in progress. As you know, we still haven't found venue, which is the first step. If you know something, let us know.
Storytelling is incredibly important. A lot of us leave out storytelling. We give facts and figures. This is why most books and presentation and webinars are so boring. The reason why you find the Brain Audit so interesting is the number of stories and analogies and examples, and then go back and read your copy of the Brain Audit or go to www.psychotactics.com/brainaudit and buy a copy, and you will see how critical it is to have these stories and how it reminds you of what you learned weeks, months, years after you learned it.
In the end, statistics don't sell. The story, the emotion that's built in within that story, and a story well told is what sells a product or a service. You go for this year and the years to come must be to tell better stories, not to give more information. That brings us to the end of this episode. If you're in 5000bc and you're a member, then, please go in and ask questions about storytelling and I'll be more than happy to answer your questions. If you haven't joined 5000bc, then get your copy of the Brain Audit first, read the stories and then join 5000bc.
You know how I started this episode with the doctor saying that I would die or go mad. I didn't die. That's me, Sean D'Souza from The 3 Month Vacation saying bye for now. Bye-bye.