There is a universal human desire to be heard and understood. Our personal stories shape who we are and have the power to inspire those around us. We tell stories all the time: over dinner, at work, at the bar, but what about telling your story on stage to a bunch of strangers? Sharing your personal story with the world might seem like a daunting task, but with a little preparation it can be fun and relatively easy!
- What story to tell?
Even if you have a story in mind it can be very helpful to brainstorm other story ideas. One of the best exercises you can do to generate ideas for stories about your life is to literally list interesting events that have happened to you. Start with a blank piece of paper and list some age ranges like this:
- (Life event) ex. Learned to ride a bike
- (Life event) ex. Kissed someone for the first time
- (Life event) ex. Went to the zoo
Try to list at least three events from each time period in your life that you think might make a good story. Once you have filled out the sheet to your liking get together with a friend, family member, or fellow storyteller, and run through the list. Try to see if any of these stories resonate with you or your partner. This exercise is a sure fire way to at least get you thinking about events that might make a good story.
- What made you do it?
What does the protagonist (you) want? Your audience should know what you want and will follow the story to see if you get it. The actions that you take in your story are driven by your motivations. Make sure you know what your motivation is and convey it to your audience either subtly or directly.
There can be multiple levels of motivation as well. For example: Let’s say that you tell a story about a time when you ate a whole tub of ice cream. Your motivations could be two fold. On the surface you were hungry and wanted to eat a bunch of ice cream, but your true motivation might have been the emotional pain you were feeling from your break-up. Motivation can be further delineated into wants and needs. In this example the protagonist may have wanted ice cream, but really they needed the comfort that the ice cream provided. If you are unsure of your motivations simply start asking yourself questions kind of like a detective would:
- What was my reason for eating a whole tub of ice cream?
- Was this a normal thing for me at the time?
- How did it make me feel before, during, and after? Why…? ect.
Identify and label the motivations for each of the actions you take throughout your story. Once this is done you can come up with creative ways to explain your motivations to your audience while you’re telling the story. Understanding the why is how an audience sympathises and relates to you.
- What’s stopping you?
Now that we know what you want there has to be some forces that are actively working against you getting what you want, this is drama, or the meat of your story. Nobody wants to hear a story about how you got everything you wanted without having to work for it and then lived happily ever after forever. In order for a story to be interesting for the audience there must be conflict.
Finding out exactly what types of conflicts you faced on the road to getting what you wanted/needed is extremely important. There are many different types of conflicts, but the basic ones are as follows:
- Human vs. Self
- Human vs. Nature
- Human vs. Society
- Human vs. Human
Of course there are more conflicts in the world, but these are the most common. Sometimes your protagonist will face multiple conflicts on their way to getting what they want/need. Identify all conflicts faced in your story and make sure that you have interesting ways to frame the action to best represent them.
- Is it a Scene, or is it a Summary?
Stories communicate information in two primary ways. A scene is a slow and vivid description of the action as it happens. A summary is a fast and general description of events over a longer period of time. Effective stories use both. Here is a basic scene and summary structure of a story:
- (Inciting incident scene): Something memorable happens that is vivid and sets the stage for the rest of the story. Introduction of motivation.
- (Rising action summary): Expository information is presented. Conflicts and obstacles are introduced.
- (Climax scene): This is event is the peak of the action. Our protagonist faces the conflicts head on and is victorious, or not.
- (Falling action summary): Important events that take place after the climax are summarized.
- (Resolution scene): The audience learns if the protagonist got what they wanted or needed in a scene that has a clear resolution.
There are a hundred different ways to organize the scenes and summaries in your story. This example illustrates one of the more common, and easy to understand ways to communicate your message. While it is not completely necessary to have your story written out before you tell it on stage; it can be a helpful practice for many people.
- Go tell it!
Now that you know how to tell a great story, the next step is getting up on stage and telling it. It’s okay to be nervous. Just remember to speak clearly into mic and