You could say a story is the basic building block for all human communication.
The act itself is natural, occurring in almost every aspect of daily life.
As a child, you might have talked to your mother at the lunch table after school. The mere act of relaying interesting encounters with your school friends was a story. Or you might remember your grandparents endowing you with local folklore at bedtime, to pique your imagination. Or consider that every time you give an interview, you are telling the story of your career arc.
Everyone is only part of a social arrangement that has humans passing on their oral and written stories down the generations. The story is where most of the performing arts stem from—movies, stand-up comedy, Instagram reels, and even an actor’s audition. As a performing artist, you might want to tap into the art of storytelling to strengthen your skills.
In this post, we give you tips on how to use your own experiences to make stories.
Work off a Favourite Memory
Many budding storytellers want to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They want to write about interesting people in the world. However, before you even try imagining another person, it is important to practise the stories you know best—ones of yourself!
The best place to start is a favourite memory. It could be a memory of meeting a long-lost friend and reconnecting. It could be the story of landing your dream job and the events that led to it.
Make the elements of the story come together: note down the details of background, place, timing, interior monologue, external dialogue, and action—for example, your long-lost friend and you visiting the school where you came from and sitting down on the same, old swing set there.
Write the story down or tell it to a friend or family member. The practice of doing so will adjust you to the art of storytelling.
Anchor Your Imagination to People, Places, & Objects
Another means of generating content from your own life is through recalling the physical and social elements around you.
- Start with a person. Pick an interesting person you met in your life. Describe the initial encounter you had with that person, emphasizing standout attributes, emotional reactions, and notable tidbits.
- Or you can start with a place instead. Relay the sights, sounds, and smells of your favourite holiday destination from arrival to departure. You might try personifying the place if you are up to the challenge.
- The last memory aid can be an object. Pick an object that you utilize frequently, one that has a notable place in your life. It could even be your trusty water bottle! Centre the story’s attention around it. Describe its timeline during the day, as if it is a living person, and the encounters it has with the people and other objects in its surroundings.
Online storytelling classes generally follow these life-related guidelines as they have a starting point from which to create—one’s own memory.
Note Down Your Routine
How do you anchor a character in reality?
To do that, you need to outline the structure of the protagonist’s day, a routine into which you can add details later. Again, there is no person better to understand this than yourself.
Note the notable activities from waking to sleep. Once you have a structure, do not just describe the activities as facts, but as a story, you are experiencing, with all its colours, tones, fragrances, people, details, and observations.
You can note down details like:
- The number of teaspoons of sugar in your morning coffee
- The design of the awning over the bakery on the way to the office
- The nature of the daily tasks you perform in the office.
- The emotional disposition of your favourite colleague at the office.
- The chit-chat with your partner after you return home.
- The bedtime stories you tell your children in the night.
Routines are what make a life. This will give you a baseline from which you can then imagine other characters’ routines, making you a naturalistic storyteller—a quality invaluable for anyone in theatre education.
Revisit a Pivotal Event in Your Life
You can always widen the scope by using key events that have had a greater significance in your life.
The harrowing aftermath of a family member’s death, or the sense of security after landing a dream job, or the seriousness of failing/passing a final exam – are all events that change the course of your life to a higher degree than others. They stick in the mind longer, and you will surely have a story around them.
The key is to order the story into a series of events.
For example, if the event is about how you failed your graduate program’s final exam, you can discuss the events leading up to the exam. Perhaps, your roommate had a panic attack and left the flat, leaving you alone, depressed, and demotivated for the last semester. Perhaps, you were never keen on the program in the first place and were forced by your parents.
Once you order these events into a definite structure, see the next step.
Blend the External and Internal Actions
All characters in stories have a set of actions they perform over the course of the timeline.
- External Actions: These are physical actions such as shifting residence to a hostel, doing housework, preparing breakfast and lunch, calling your parents and talking to them after a month, etc.
- Internal Actions: These are the internal thoughts and narratives you create as the physical actions are happening. For example, the sad and slow realization that you will have to live away from your loved ones as you transition to living in a hostel, the sense of independence and security you have from doing housework and cooking, the wistfulness you feel as you call your parents after a month, etc.
To achieve realism, do not forget to blend the internal actions with the external ones. Your interior monologue, emotions, and thoughts do matter a lot to the uniqueness of the narrative.
Simplify the Story’s Structure
When there is a set beginning, middle, and end, the story is made easier to understand.
- Beginning: This is where you set the background to your story, introduce the main character (you) and their state of mind, and layout events leading to the main conflict that will later emerge.
- Middle: Introduce the main conflict. This could be an internal conflict, such as uncertainty over a career choice, or an external conflict with another character. Describe the events and actions around the main conflict and layout other characters, actions, and spaces that surround the conflict.
- End: Build the climax, describe the final solution to the conflict, and deliver the central message of the story. The central message, like the moral of the story, could be that of overcoming a weakness or accepting a weakness. Usually, it is an act that changes the main character in some fundamental way. It does not have to be mentioned explicitly. It can be shown in the actions of the character, or their thoughts—following the writer’s adage of “show, don’t tell.”
Using real life as a source for stories is one of the most successful methods of storytelling around the globe. The art of storytelling has to involve all aspects of life, so the storyteller needs to hone their powers of observation not only when in close proximity to other people, but inwards, within their own lives. Excavating your own life of its riches of memory usually results in a product that is closest to the truth. People know themselves better than others can.
For that purpose, Ekalavya’s online video courses can help you train yourself to find the elements of your life that can be used for art. Our storyteller, Akhshay Gandhi, is an alumnus of the Saratoga International Theater Institute (SITI) Company in New York and heads his own company, Still Space Theatre, in Bangalore, where he has worked for more than 12 years, creating more than 20 productions on stage and screen.
He conducts the ‘Art of Storytelling’, a practical online storytelling course that will help you apply these ideas to find a voice that creates stories that stand up to professional standards of plays, shows, and films. We hope our medium of digital storytelling will help you get ahead in your endeavour.
Happy story hunting!
India’s best online acting and theatre training platform, an initiative of Drama School Mumbai (DSM). DSM is one of the best acting and theatre schools in India. At Ekalavya, all the courses are designed and delivered by highly trained DSM faculty and industry professionals. Currently available courses are Breaking Open Characters, Mastering Monologues, Expressive Voice and Speech, Art of Auditioning, Expressive Body, and Art of Storytelling.