The 10 Principles of Storytelling

Story consultant Bobette Buster outlines the key elements that take a story from good… to great.

Illustration © Millie Marotta
  1. Tell your story as if you’re telling it to a friend: this applies no matter where you are or who your audience is.
  2. Set the GPS: give the place, time, setting, and any relevant context. Keep it factual, short and sweet.
  3. Action! Use active verbs or, as I like to say, ‘Think Hemingway’: spice up your verb choices but keep them succinct. Invest in a thesaurus (or a free app). Avoid multisyllabic, erudite, four-dollar words, over-intellectualising, philosophising, qualifying. See how many I just used? It’s boring to keep reading them, isn’t it?
  4. Juxtapose: take two ideas, images, or thoughts and place them together. Let them collide. Remember German philosopher, Friedrich Hegel, here: that in posing two opposing ideas, a whole new idea is created (thesis + antithesis = synthesis). This tool wakes up your audience, and is the root of many successful stories.
  5. Gleaming detail: choose one ordinary moment or object that becomes a ‘gleaming detail’. Something that best captures and embodies the essence of the story. Make the ordinary extraordinary.
  6. ‘Hand over the Spark’: reflect on the experience or idea that originally captivated you and simply hand it to your audience as if it were aflame. Carry the fire.
  7. Be vulnerable: dare to share the emotion of your story. Be unafraid to ask your audience what you questioned along the way so they share your doubt, confusion, anger, sorrow, insight, glee, delight, joy, epiphany.
  8. Tune in to your sense memory: choose the strongest of the five senses in your story and use it to make a deeper connection with your audience. There is always one primary sense that dominates every memory.
  9. Bring yourself: a story is as much about you as anything else.
  10. Let go: hand over your story, letting it build to its natural, emotional punchline, then end it and get out fast. Leave the audience wanting more. Less is more.

Bobette Buster is a screenwriter, documentary producer, lecturer, and story consultant. She grew up in Kentucky, a region renowned for its great storytellers. As a student she produced an oral history of the area that is now archived at the Kentucky Museum. She then moved on to Hollywood to learn the business of script development, and now writes, produces and lectures at the major studios including Disney, Pixar and Twentieth Century Fox, and in top film programs all over the globe.


Bobette will be running a workshop on storytelling in London on Saturday 17 June. For more information and tickets visit the Do Lectures website.


Extract from Do Story: How to tell your story so the world listens. by Bobette Buster. Copyright © 2013 by Bobette Buster. Published by The Do Book Co.

Amazon | iBooks | IndieBound | Do Books