Setting a Storytelling Scene
A picture says a thousand words. Clearly, Kermit’s not a happy camper and there’s a story behind this.
Stories ignite your words. They paint pictures that bring your words to life, put your audience in the scene and feel the emotions of being there. And research shows that the more you engage people’s senses the more they absorb and learn. So your carefully crafted stories should ideally put your audience in the action of your story, ignite their senses and their learning and whisk them away to the world you create with your words.
Stories are powerful things. And there’s a lot of stories out there about stories. Kurt Vonnegut nails it with this short and funny film about common shapes of stories, Pixar’s Andrew Stanton shares how the magic of stories transport us and if you’re looking for something to get your teeth into, there’s Christopher Booker’s 736 page bible on the seven basic plots of stories.
Use your words like a magician
Being a word magician is powerful and effective, whether you’re a senior executive describing a pivotal board decision at an AGM, a school governor writing a newsletter to parents or a small business owner creating engaging website content for your customers.
The first step to creating a great story is a great description. Conjure up a sense of place, take your reader by the hand and lead her into this setting.
Compare the two descriptions below.
1) An aqua eyed beauty with flaming fuchsia hair is painted on the wall behind the counter and Ella Fitzgerald’s voice soothes the customers. My rose tea comes served in art deco china, cream trimmed in matt gold, and cakes the colours of circus costumes beckon from inside the glass display. Sara, the Swiss owner of this Reykjavik café, is wearing a turquoise 1950s dress and as she serves the man next to me I notice a crimson tattoo of a poppy on her left hand.
2) I went for a cup of tea in a colourful café that played jazz.
How do the two descriptions make you feel? Why? Which description makes you want to visit this café?
Both are descriptions of the same setting but the first one creates a sense of place through using colours and senses and the words paint the scene.
The second sentence is brief, to the point and transactional. There’s no story there, no hook to hang your senses onto or light up your imagination. It’s much more suited to be a tweet than setting a scene that you want your audience to settle into.
By using emotions and the senses you’re able to evoke a sense of place, keep your writing alive and arouse curiosity in your reader. All great features of a story that keeps people interested and keeps them reading to find out why is a Swiss woman running a café in Iceland, what’s the story behind that tattoo and how do these colourful cakes taste?
Answer? Pretty sublime, actually.