How to Improve your Storytelling Abilities

Sean P. Durham
Photo by Rawpixel on Unsplash

Storytelling is the beginning of organised communication. If you make videos, sell cars or use technology to communicate, then writing your ideas down is important to you.

“Those who tell the stories rule the world.” — Hopi American Indian proverb

Stories are built in to our psyche, we tell them to each other and we crave that others have a story to tell us.

“It’s the way I tell ‘em” , Frank Carson — comedian.

If you write stories to entertain people, then learning to get to the kernel of your story’s meaning is important to you.

Photo Credit- Joanna Kosinska on unsplash

Ask another writer how to improve your abilities of expression and you’ll often be given a stock answer; grammar. Learn to understand the grammar and you’re writing will improve. In fact, this isn’t really true.

Grammar will help you write words that others can make sense of, but it won’t help much when you want to get your point across. You have your own way of telling the story. You tell it as a living thing that exists. Grammar can’t do that part of word-smithing for you.

Sweating the Story for a Comma

You’ve heard of these famous writers, fiction writers mostly, who spend all morning sweating buckets over a sentence, remove a comma and then replace it before they go for a cocktail lunch with their literary friends. These actions, the comma and the sweating seem to make writing sound like a machochistic practice. Well, they certainly aren’t sweating about grammar, so what is it that makes them shift a comma to the waste-paper-basket?

Bad Grammar but a Great Story

Nell Dunn was a normal everyday teenager who lived in Battersea, London during the 1960s. Although she came from a well-off background she didn’t learn to read until she was nine years old, she left school at 14 years old and went out into the world without any formal qualifications. She worked in a sweet factory and made friends in the area.

Nell Dunn then began to write a series of short stories about life in Battersea and Clapham, called, “Up the Junction”. The stories are written in the colloquial tones of a working class Londoner. The grammar is incorrect, sentences are rough with edgy tones of the street. Not glamorous nor stylised, but it is a piece of writing that gives a solid and honest insight into the lives of its protagonists.

It’s hard to stop reading this bad grammar because there is something more important in the story that you as reader, want more of. It sounds like teenagers cursing and swearing, moaning about boredom and getting themselves into trouble with police and family.

Dancing with a Pen

The rhythms and nuances of the story itself are more important than the grammar. If somebody were to correct the grammar to make it fit the accepted rules of style and grammar, then the stories would become dead-wood ready for the fire.

These stories, like many since written, have a style that allows the author to express ideas in a way so that the writing doesn’t get in the way.

The Proposition

To write better stories it is better to concentrate on what it is that you as author are proposing to the reader. What are you trying to say?

When you know why you are writing a particular piece, then you can focus on how to get that point across so that a reader will feel as if they are being carried along by the words, as if they know that to continue reading is going to lead to something so interesting that they can’t put the book down.

Don’t Bore Your Brain with Mundane exercises

When you ask yourself how to improve your writing and believe that you must do more grammar exercises, then you are like the soldier who only learns to march up and down the hill, all day, back and forth. The Sergeant Major is very pleased with the results as you express the self-discipline of precision and ability not to drop the rifle, to turn efficiently and to keep a line of men in formation. Bravo.

Photo by William Warby on Unsplash

A writer who looks for rules of grammar to support all of their writing abilities will finally be able to write a good book on grammar. Bravo. It wasn’t the goal, though, was it?

Writing is an Emotional Experience

When you write you surely have a subject, topic or theme that you wish to get across to your reader. To write of love, war, or about the thrilling experiences that you had in the jungle should be more important than your grammar. You should work with the feelings that these experiences cause to rise in your mind. The emotions that twist and turn the soul are the beginning point of your writing.

Your emotions don’t have any grammar. They have experience.That’s the point. They will fly out at any moment and force you to feel and think about your subject more deeply than ever, it’s in there, that moment when you are feeling something about your topic that you can get at the magic that leads to creative expression in your writing. It’s at this moment that you will know what you want to, must, say to your reader. That feeling, thought or sentiment is your proposition.

John Brain, the author of “Room at the Top”, said that when you have a story to tell, it will be a bit like when you are meeting friends at the pub, you walk in and start telling the story immediately, it must be told because it is so important. When it’s like this, people listen, your readers eat up words that are written with emotions.

It goes beyond words sometimes. We have to trust ourselves to know that as soon as we begin to write on the paper, the proposition that is so forceful but vague with words, will begin to formulate and become ordered by our practice and ability to order ideas. The emotion is filtered through the mind into words as we write.

That’s why we practise writing in the hope that one day we will experience the magic of creating stories that seem like they were written through us and not by us.

Photo by Michel Catalisano on Unsplash

To be able to write better, more effectively, isn’t about marching up and down the hill all day. Mundane activity is not part of writing, as much as the musician who tries to learn a piece of music without conscious effort will fail, the writer of any type of writing must be focussed and practise to become skilled.

Skill in writing shows up in the quality of reading.

Great grammar is for grammarians and school teachers to get the basics down. After that, it’s up to you and me to see how far we can delve into the mysterious world of creativity where we discover how to harness our thoughts and emotions, filter them into words that carry at least something of a feeling across to our readers.

Sean P. Durham

Written by

Writing about the Creative Art of Living Successfully at http://seandurham.eu

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