Last week a friend recommended a book to me:
Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life through the Power of Storytelling by Matthew Dicks.
It’s a how-to guide on telling better stories. The author is a novelist and five-time winner of the Moth GrandSLAM competition (a national storytelling contest).
As you can probably tell, I like telling stories, so I was keen to check it out.
I’ve been listening on Audible the last few days and taking notes. It’s a great book.
Here are 13 of the insights I’ve written down:
- Start your story with forward motion — “It’s late on a Thursday night, and I’m barrelling down the highway.”
- Kick off stories as close to their ending as possible. More scenes are harder for a reader to follow.
- Every story should boil down to a 5-second moment of transformation in the main character.
- Cut every detail that does not bring that 5-second moment into the greatest possible clarity.
- Never tell someone else’s story. Tell YOUR side of their story.
- Deliberately slow your story down when your audience is in the most suspense to find out what comes next.
- Omit details — even entire characters — if it makes a better story for the audience.
- Raise the stakes of your story by explaining how you believe a plan SHOULD work, before you try it. This is why the Ocean’s Eleven series spends so much time explaining how the heists are supposed to go off.
- Stories should be like a movie in the reader’s mind. Every scene must have a physical location they can imagine.
- Never open with a thesis statement. “This is a story about a time I realised that friends can be all the family you’ll ever need.”
- Don’t set expectations at the start of your story. “You won’t believe this one.”
- Make sure every ‘beat’ in your story can be linked with either ‘but’ or ‘therefore’, but never ‘and’. Contrast and consequence keep stories exciting.
- Keep stories as short and punchy as possible.
There was plenty of other stuff, too — about how to come up with story ideas from your life, and a few of the author’s own stories.
On the whole? I really enjoyed the book.
(Though to be fair, I already knew a lot of this advice from my years of working with a nationally bestselling author. He didn’t sell that many books without knowing how to tell a good tale.)
But let me throw a spanner in the works:
Many of these rules work for telling better stories … but not necessarily for better sales pitches.
This guy obviously isn’t selling anything with his stories. But when you and I write, we are. Which means that while there’s some overlap, you will NOT learn to be a better sales writer from this book.
So if you want to learn to tell better stories, I recommend the book.
But if you want to learn how to tell stories that sell?
Well, you’re on the right email list.
And if you’re not really interested in learning — and you just want me to do it — you can go here:
(… you won’t really get a story if you click, it just puts you on my client waitlist. Don’t be so literal.)