"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

3 fundamental elements of superb storytelling By Nick Morgan


1. Make the stakes high enough. There's an old Hollywood nostrum that, if a scene is dragging, you introduce a gun. That immediately raises the stakes, because someone could get killed. How can you make your story about life and death? Shakespeare knew that those were the themes worth telling stories about. Everything else is small beer.

2. Offer a quest. That, of course, is just of the great plot structures that have stood the test of storytelling time, for tens of thousands of years, and still enchant us. It's a huge mistake to think your story must be completely new. We like stories best when we understand the structure, when we know where they're going. If you tell us a compelling quest, we're enthralled because we know that, after a long and arduous journey, the hero will prevail because of her grit and determination. We just want to see how hard the journey is and how determined the hero. Can you make us, the audience, the hero? Even better.

3. Present a problem to solve. Our minds are hard-wired to want to solve problems when you present them in the right way. That engages us, enlists us in the struggle and propels us along the journey.
To become a great storyteller, embrace one of the ancient structures, such as the quest. Embrace the conflict, raise the stakes, and give us a worthy problem to solve. If you can do all that, we will listen to you all day.

A version of this article originally appeared on Public Words.

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