My six-year-old reminded me of three important things about telling stories

For my 40th birthday a few years ago, my son (who was soon-to-be six) gave me a book he’d written. On its cover, he wrote the title and drew a little picture. The taped-together pages that followed were blank. The idea was we would write the story together.

While there were many things about this gift that were great, my son’s true genius was in demonstrating three proven storytelling tips:

1) Write your headline first. That’s what my son did. He had an idea; he wrote it down. I give him plus points for including a picture that illustrated his idea. This should be everybody’s starting point. Take your story idea, and write your title or headline first.

Because your headline is essential to the success of your masterpiece, be prepared to go back to it and rewrite it to ensure it’s still on point. Even better, write several draft headlines. Try for ten, and if you’re feeling ambitious go for fifty. Then pick the one that stands out as the best fit.

2) Know your audience. Check! My son knew exactly who his story was for; it was for me, of course. Surely, you remember the adage that when you write for everyone, you write for no one. And that’s what you need to do with your story — know your audience, and then narrow it down to someone in particular with whom you want to share your story. Once you know for whom the story is meant, you can be personal, convey emotion, and find a strong voice. That will give your story a distinct personality that speaks directly to a specific person.

3) Gather information and facts related to the story including scenes and characters that will grab your audience’s interest. For my son’s story, my interest was captured when we sat down with our pens and pencils and talked about where the story would take place, with whom, and what would happen along the way. He drew the pictures and told the story with all the drama and plot points he could imagine. I helped him write it all down, fascinated by where the story was headed.

You too need to figure out which details will capture someone’s interest. Be compelling; ask yourself what will make your reader (or viewer or listener for that matter) think, “and then what happened?” Your story must contain action that progresses over time with some kind of destination or purpose.

Remember, not everybody can write and even fewer can write a good story well. What everybody does have is a story to tell, and sometimes all we need is a good writer to help us tell it. Think about that. You don’t have to write your story alone. There’s power and beauty in writing a story together, collaborative storytelling.

Case in point, I was picking up my son the other day when my attention was directed to another storybook he and some classmates had created. Each child had a page of the book to write and illustrate. The result was beyond impressive — it was downright inspired. There was plot, setting, characters, point of view, atmosphere and conflict (the story was about a girl walking in the woods who encountered a dinosaur on her way to lunch).

Now imagine putting your own storytelling efforts through similar exercises and what that could yield.

I thought these three tips kept it simple, but if you want even more storytelling tips, check out these great reads:

22 Storytelling Tips For Writers From A Pixar Storyboard Artist

Timeless Advice on Writing from Famous Authors

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