My take on good storytelling

I’m intrigued by the structure of stories. Those things that pull readers along from page to page. For the writer, it’s a very conscious thing because he/she decides what to reveal, what to hide and when to do it. But for the reader, they should be consumed by the story itself, not how the story is unfolding. Stories become predictable if the reader recognizes the structure. Don’t do that.

The absence of information creates friction/suspense/tension and that draws people in. They want to resolve something that may or may not exist. They connect the dots, fill in the blanks and close the loops you create. Go ahead and leave out certain details.

For example, a character has an eye patch but I don’t tell you why he has an eye patch, at least not right away, but maybe never. Throughout the story, more and more of his character/personality is revealed (directly and indirectly). So the reader starts to imagine what happened to his eye. That’s tension. The reader keeps reading, waiting for resolution.

Every story has what I call a “red thread”. The red thread is the spine of your story. All events/scenes must branch out from the red thread. It keeps everything connected/relevant. Now the red thread shouldn’t be straight or taut.  Try this: cut a piece of thread (preferably red) about 15″ long. Lay it out on a table. With your index finger, bump/swirl/move the thread around, creating an interesting path. Do that with your story.

[NOTE: I borrowed the term Red Thread from the Blind Pilots — great song, great band.]

Here’s what Andrew Stanton has to say about telling a good story.


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