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Storytelling Techniques

Well that was quite a long interlude. Apologies for the delay in posting I was away for a little bit in the South East Asian world (and loved it) and did not really have the time or resources to post from that side of the world. However, I am now back again!

Instead of continuing to expand the education around building one’s own website, I have decided to go down a different route for this post. I will be dipping my foot into methods of storytelling, be it in written or visual form (mainly motion picture type). In person storytelling is something rather different and I have yet to think about that one properly, so I’m going to leave out in this post. The reason I want tp write about this is because I needed a break from analysing and dissecting websites have been fascinated by how stories are told. And I have been meaning to research this a bit more in order to be able to write great stories myself! Here is what I have discovered thus far:

There are only handful of techniques used in written and visual story telling. And they seem to be incredibly simple. Sometimes they are used in a singular form, other times they are combined and blended. It really depends on what type of story is being told and how many perspectives there are (e.g. there may be one main character and two or three side characters whose perspective the author uses to develop the plot).

The simplest form of storytelling is chronological. The vast majority of stories are told in chronological order as they are easy for the reader to follow. One popular example is the Harry Potter story (with exceptions of a few sections in the later books where some chapters go back in time). The story in a nutshell consists of Harry growing up and moving from 1st year to 2nd year to 3rd year etc in Hogwarts. Nothing overly complex and the story is easy to follow.

Then there is what I like to call the peel technique (leaning on the imagery of peeling a banana or an onion). The bulk of the story happens in chronological order, but occasionally the author reveals some key aspects about the main character. The manner in which this may happen obviously depends on how the story is narrated (1st person, 3rd person?). The key thing about this technique and why I enjoy it, is that often the chapters or sections, where some details about the characters past or certain key parts of the story are revealed, contain very juicy details. So in the case of Harry Potter, I very much enjoyed the sections where the perspective was shifted to Voldemort and the reader got glimpses of who his mysterious aids were as well as the revelation of his favourite choc chip cookie recipe.

A variant of the peel storytelling technique is the flashback method. This one is very similar though I’d prefer to differentiate from the peel because often the main characters in these stories have something to hide. They could have had a trauma and/or have suppressed memories. Or they could be a dark dark person with dark dark deeds done in the past that are gradually uncovered throughout the story. Examples in this category include Batman Begins who’s still terribly mad about having fallen down that manhole.

The above three methods are the most common methods that I see employed. Obviously there are tons and tons of variants as stories are often told from the perspectives of many different characters. The possibilities truly are limitless!
I also wanted to add one little thing that annoys me most about books I read and/or films I watch:  I really find it annoying when the author devotes a large section of the story to a character’s dreams. Maybe it’s just me, but I get truly bored reading about some character’s dreams. The reader is already in a day dream of sorts when reading. They imagine the story unfold, then on top they have to force themselves to imagine a dream of a dream? That’s all a bit too much for me and I often find that it detracts from the actual story. I prefer just reading about the plot unfolding rather than about the character’s dreams, even if it is some sort of foreshadowing of events to come.

Anyhow, I just wanted to share some of the thoughts I had about storytelling/writing. Do you agree with this? Is there another very obvious technique of storytelling I have left out? Happy to hear all thoughts!

Happy Monday!

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  1. That’s what I liked about HP too (and many other stories of more than one book) – the chronological order and the peeling back of layers and characters as the books progressed and the importance of different characters came through. I also liked the tiny details – a throwaway comment in the first book that turns out to be part of a major plot point later – stuff you only pick up when re-reading. I also like the concept of storytelling from different perspectives – continuing on a fantasy note, Phillip Pullman does this really well. Same with you, not much of a fan of dream sequences.

  2. I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction recently (Superfreakonomics, The Power of Mathematical Thinking, Outliers) – I think it’s remarkable how the authors unfold their tales using scientific and statistical evidence. All authors have at some point used the techniques you mentioned above! Enjoyed your post above!

    • Cheers! There’s plenty more. I read a book called “The Difference Engine” which is a novel and it’s fascinating to see how the story unfolds. Recommend the read.