Let’s begin the process simply, with a one-line definition of a story:
A speaker tells a listener what someone did to get what he wanted and why.
But telling a soty is not simply making up or remembering past events. Events are just descriptive. The storyteller is really selecting, connecting, and building a series of intense moments. These moments are so charged that the listener feels he is living them himself. Good storytelling doesn’t just tell audiences what happened in a life. It gives them the experience of that life. It is the essential life, just the crucial thoughts and events, but it is conveyed with such freshness and newness that it feels part of the audience’s essential life too.
Good storytelling lets the audience relive events in the present so they can understand the forces, choices, and emotions that led the character to do what he did. Stories are really giving the audience a form of knowledge — emotional knowledge — or what used to be known as wisdom, but they do it in a playful, entertaining way.
As a creator of verbal games that let the audience relive a life, the storyteller is constructing a kind of puzzle about people and asking the listener to figure it out.The author creates this puzzle in two major ways: he tells the audience certain information about a made-up character, and he withholds certain information. Withholding, or hiding, information is crucial to the storyteller’s make-believe. It forces the audience to figure out who the character is and what he is doing and so draws the audience into the story. When the audience no longer has to figure out the story, it ceases being an audience, and the story stops.
Audiences love both the feeling part (reliving the life) and the thinking part (figuring out the puzzle) of a story. Every good story has both. But you can see story forms that go to one extreme or the other, from sentimental melodrama to the most cerebral detective story.