The secrets to an intriguing story
December 4, 2015
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Not everyone has the gift of being a great storyteller. It’s not as simple as it seems, for the story must be communicated clearly with only the necessary details expressed in order to maintain the audiences’ attention. The communicator must be able to speak clearly and expressively. Yet, a great storyteller can only do so much if the story is no good.
It seems that in this day and age, people are not so interested in hearing a success story, at least not one without failures. Why? Well, the answer may come down to subconscious jealousy; the fact that most of us have failed at one thing or another makes us feel worse about ourselves when we see someone who has surpassed expectations without ever disappointing anyone. It makes our dreams seem more unrealistic. Listeners are interested in hearing the struggles, the blood, the sweat, the tears. This is what makes the story appealing; it is what makes the story relatable. The trials and tribulations experienced by a character are essential to a gripping story for without them, the story becomes too predictable. Naturally, as humans, we are drawn to the sense of mystery, the idea of suspense. The not knowing aspect bothers many individuals and they will stay on the edge of their seats until the answer is revealed. I mean many of us do that now with our favorite TV shows. When one episode ends, we cannot wait until the following week when the next episode airs (that is if we are not binge watching a season on Netflix). Thus, in storytelling, this suspense is often shown to us in the unexpected hardships many endure. For this reason, many of the famous stories like The Great Gatsby or even memoirs we hear today like Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl are filled with adversity. In truth, it is the drama we are addicted to.
However, it is not just drama that makes for a good story. The idea of conveying an emotion is influential as well. Many of the best stories grip at our heartstrings and evoke a sense of sympathy or encouragement for a specific individual. The listeners/readers of a story begin to feel an emotion. Take Flowers for Algernon for example. As we follow Charlie Gordon on his journey to achieve greater human intelligence, we also witness his downfall. After learning everything he has endured from bullying to abandonment, the reader is saddened by his eventual decline, leaving him once more in a debilitated state. Sure, we can all share in someone else’s glee but the truth is, it is not the same as hearing about someone else’s pain. That is because agony or woe is expressed in various forms and is a much more complicated emotion than joy. We have all lived through sorrowful moments, thus evoking empathy from the reader, but the catch is that our feeling of sorrow is quite different from that of another’s. And so in this manner we only have an idea of how the character is really feeling and therefore we express pity and sympathy because we can only partially understand how another is feeling. It is this uncertainty that draws us in. We are constantly seeking what we do not know.
A story full of affliction conveys its message much more effectively than one of pure excitement; why do you think there are so many break-up songs out there? Take Sam Smith, for example, who dedicated an entire album (In the Lonely Hour) to express his woe through songs about his latest heartbreak. Les Misérables, a movie and a musical (well, originally a book) about the French fight for freedom, again deals with the trials and tribulations of several characters and not surprisingly, has achieved great success as a story. Although I am all for celebrating the rewarding and joyful moments in life, it is the sad truth that ironically enough, these gleeful moments just do not cut it. They don’t get us as excited as one would expect. People need more; people want to hear how others deal with their struggles, perhaps to serve as encouragement for their own.
|There’s a greater mystery to storytelling that needs to be found.|
At the end of the day, a good story needs drama, drama in the form of suspense and adversity. Once the story is made to be interesting, only then can the storyteller properly communicate to his or her audience. Their story becomes ours.