Teaching about storytelling

As a follow-up to Tuesday’s post about getting a story (and teaching students about stories), I’m going to refer to three earlier posts here:

What I learned from Ken Speake, a longtime TV journalist (The elements of storytelling) is that a really good storyteller can find a story almost anywhere — but more important, why is he able to do that? Because he’s curious about the world, about people, about things he sees. He’s not walking around thinking: “Damn, I have to find a story …” He’s thinking: “Wow, I wonder who made that? I wonder why she’s doing that? I wonder how that got here?”

What I learned about students is that when they go out to gather images and sound, they are focused on the activity of gathering and not the end result — telling an interesting story. So I leaned on what I have learned from multimedia storytellers (RGMP 11: Tell a good story with images and sound), and one way to summarize that for inexperienced student journalists is to say: Forget about beginning, middle and end. Think about what you want to end with — the point of it all. Tell me why this story is worth telling. Why is it worth anyone’s time to watch it, listen to it, read it?

If you can’t tell me that, then you do not have a story at all.

If you can tell me what the point of it all is, then that’s the point to which your finished story needs to lead me — lead the audience. Take us there. This is different from a factual straight-news lede.

And finally, you should be able to analyze an effective story and identify why it grabbed your attention (in the opening); how it held your attention (with variety and pacing); how it came to a point, or a climax; and how it tied it up neatly and left you feeling glad you’d heard/seen/read this story: Storytelling 101 with ‘The Annoying Orange.’

And then — of course — there’s Ira Glass.

I think one thing we need to do is have more analysis — and ask students to perform more analysis — of stories that work well as stories.

2 Comments on “Teaching about storytelling

  1. It’s all about focus. At the NPPA’s Advanced Storytelling Workshop (http://www.advancedstorytellingworkshop.com/), held at Texas State every year, the week is geared toward finding your focus. I’m always surprised that even seasoned professionals need a reminder that it’s all about finding your focus when it comes to storytelling.

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