BUILDING A GOOD STORY
Teachers and students can use these ideas and tips to craft true, first-person stories.
A five-minute personal story is the description of a particular moment, not a retelling of your whole life.
Your story should not have a stated moral but it should have some kind of growth or change in it. It should describe a memorable experience that changed you or made you see the world differently.
Stories do not need to be funny, or tragic or describe a major life change. They can be about small things that make us human. A meaningful encounter with a friend or stranger on the school bus. A time when you went out of your way to make someone feel included or when someone else made you feel special.
After generating 2 or 3 ideas, have students share them with a partner and then pick
the one that the partner is most curious about.
Getting the Right Words – Editing
A story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but they don’t have to be in that order! All the parts of the story are equally important. Once you are sure that you have the necessary details, you can play around with the structure.
Don’t start with ‘this is a story about...”, just jump in. Stories often begin in the middle of the action - once the story is started, you can go back and fill in the details.
Show the audience through word pictures, don’t tell them. Look at the example below:
Telling: The dog was above me and growled and showed his teeth.
Showing: The huge dog loomed above me snarling and snapping with saliva dripping from his jaws.
Keep the number of characters to a minimum. It’s okay to just tell us about one or two people at an event, rather than giving a list of everyone who was there.
Don’t refer to your characters as the first guy, or the other guy - this is confusing for the listeners! Name your characters so the story is easier to follow.
Avoid descriptions or complications that do not move the story along. The first draft of your story might include a ton of extra information that you decide to cut or edit later in the interests of the story and/or your central message/idea.
Remember the audience is not made up of one type of person. Avoid generalizations that will annoy your audience such as ‘girls love doing their nails, so of course she bought nail polish…’. Try instead changing it to ‘she was a girl who loved doing her nails, so of course she bought nail polish…’ Good storytellers avoid or even challenge stereotypes!
Don’t use this as an opportunity to complain or make the audience feel sorry for you. A pity story is not a story your audience wants to listen to.
Telling Your Story Out Loud
You must practise telling your story aloud to get used to the sound of your own voice and make decisions on how you want to speak each section.
Build pauses into the story to help the audience stay with you or to emphasize an
important moment. If you say something that changes the direction of the story,
give a pause to let it sink in.
Don’t just tell it at one pace. Some parts may sound better if you slow down or speed up or change the volume of your voice. You can experiment as you practice it.
Practise your story in front of a few people to see what kind of reaction you get.
To see what your audience is experiencing, you can also practice in front of a mirror or record yourself and play it back. That will help you decide when to change the pace or add a pause.
Don’t expect laughs if you put jokes in. The audience might not find things as funny as you do.
Have fun. It helps if you smile during the delivery (of the happy parts!), or if you look like you passionately believe in what you are saying. If you are sincere, your audience will believe in your story.