Monthly Archives: July 2019

Dead bird with fairy

Build Suspense to Hold Attention

Last time, I covered use of humour in storytelling.  One use is to build suspense.  Humour diverts attention from incoming disaster.  Here is part 2 of the story I started last time.  Note how I use suspense in this part of the story.

The Story of the Sparrow, Part 2

Daniel’s grandmother left him a box of belongings.  She too had second sight but he didn’t know how she used it or what became of her.  He searched her belongings to find her mirror.  A mirror with silver backing.  Folk have an interesting relationship with silver.

Daniel peered into the mirror and recoiled at the vicious, beaked, red-eyed monster.  He threw the mirror down on his bed and stepped back.  The Folk trapped in the mirror would escape!  In a flurry of feathers and fear, anger and energy, the creature struggled and propelled itself out of the mirror and towards Daniel. 

He held out his hand and shouted: halt!  The creature fell to the floor.  “Well done”, said Cat, “I’ll finish it off.”  Cat licked its lips.

“No” – Daniel stepped forward – “let me hear it out”.  “Oh, you’re never going to help this one.  It possessed you.  Proper put the wind up me.” 

The creature stirred.  Its form changed as it took in its surroundings.  Now it appeared as a young woman.  She wore a half mask, covering her eyes, common among Folk who have not shared their name.  She leapt onto the bed and cowered in the corner, never taking her eyes off Cat.

Daniel sat on the opposite end of the bed.  He spoke gently, “What do you want?”  Folk fear human contact but also crave it.  The Little Sparrow had died in the mouth of a cat.  “Please Cat, let us be.”  Daniel opened the door.  “This’ll end in tears, mark my words.  I’m here if you need help despatching it.”  A gentle foot hastened Cat’s departure.

Sparrow’s Story

Little Sparrow was calmer now.  She had been the adventurous chick in her nest and balanced on the edge before she could fly.  A young boy had seen her fall but couldn’t reach the nest.  She loved his warm hands, gentleness and smell.  And he fed her.  But the cat got in and …

In the way of Folk, some souls persist.  She persisted, hid from the boy and watched him.  He sensed she was there.  He coaxed her with morsels of bread.  She took her current form.  They happily played and talked together.  Then one day, he left.  Followed by waters that covered and trapped her.  Until this summer.  She saw her chance when Daniel appeared and hitched a lift.   

Daniel asked: “You want to find him?”, she nodded,  “It’s a long time, you know he may be dead or love another or forgotten you?  But you need to know?  Do you know his name?”

She did not.

Why is Attention Important

This is a first written draft of a story I plan to tell live.  My challenge is to grasp and hold attention.  Reading it and part 1, in the last blog post, do you want to know what happens next?  If your audience does, you have a viable story.

Aim to tell a story that captures and holds attention.  In business this has advantages.  It produces emotional buy-in.  Skilled storytellers sell through their story; by the end of the story their audience (or some of them) are ready to buy.  You might not be quite so persuasive but a good story means an audience predisposed to hear out your offer.

If the audience wants to know what happens next, they listen.  This helps you segue into teaching at the end or during the story.  You build a relationship with your audience and invite them to continue that relationship through some offer.  This need not be a sale, it could be signing up to an email list, for example. 

How to Build Suspense

Hold attention by building suspense.  Suspense in this story comes from several places.  There are two big mysteries and I’m not planning to reveal them too soon.  One is the mystery of where this story is going.  Clearly, they are going to search for the missing boy.  How will that work out?  There’s how they set about it, what they find … and that’s all to come.

The second big mystery is the nature of the protagonist.  I have dropped hints about Daniel.  Who is he and what can he do?  What about his cat?  And his grandmother is part of the mystery.  And what about Folk?  Who are they and what do they want?

Here are more techniques:


Notice how I divide this story into parts.  I don’t necessarily recommend you do this.  This story is better told in one helping.  But notice whether you want to know more when you get to the final line.  If you break a story, it is a good way to hold attention.  Is the story compelling enough to persuade someone to open your email next time?

Slow Description

Another approach to suspense is to slow things down.  The creature does not emerge from the mirror immediately.  Daniel throws the mirror on the bed and then it flies at Daniel.  These are only a few lines and the problem is quickly despatched.  You don’t know what is going to happen and so slowing down the narrative builds suspense.  Contrast with the later story of the Little Sparrow and her friend.  Here I speed up the narrative.  It’s stuff you need to know but there’s no need to linger. 

This story has a number of moments that are action packed and moving.  I make decisions about when to linger and when to get a move on.

Hold Back Information

One way to build attention is hold back information.  There are two types of information.  Information about characters or back story.  The characters in my Story of the Sparrow all have back stories.  I hint at back stories but don’t go into detail.  It’s not necessary.  Hints suggest depth for the characters.  You need to know about Daniel’s grandmother but need little detail.  Other information is held back until later in the story. 

Don’t Apologise

There is no need to explain anything, simply tell the story.  I could begin the story by saying this is a story about a Sparrow who is seeking love.  But I don’t need to say this because the story explains it. 

At the start, you know nothing about the story.  Is it comedy or tragedy?  Who should we root for?  Who are the characters?  They’re all mysterious.  Daniel is not an ordinary schoolboy.  Declaring he has second sight at the start serves to identify this as a fairy story – it’s equivalent to “Once Upon a Time”. 

He commands the Sparrow to halt.  He has a talking cat.  I don’t have to explain this.  We find out more as the story progresses but there will remain questions at the end. 

Concealed Information

Conceal information that does not seem relevant until later in the story.  So, I mention cats have second sight near the start of the story and then introduce a talking cat.  Until the talking cat appears, the remark about cats having second sight seems throw away. 

Another example is the mask the Little Sparrow wears.  Notice how this is the only feature I describe other than she takes the form of a young woman.  I don’t say much about it, other than it covers her eyes.  He saw her eyes when she attacked him, so what does the mask conceal?

What Happens?

The best way to conceal information is tell the story as it happens from the point of view of the protagonist.  We know what Daniel knows and nothing more.  We are invited to make the same decisions Daniel makes.  Should he help Little Sparrow?  What would you do if asked for help by a lovelorn sparrow? 

Notice too Cat is of a different mind to Daniel.  Cat is the voice of reason (to some degree).  Cat means I don’t need to describe the dilemma, it’s a part of the story. 

Keep the story moving forward.  Don’t pause to explain. 

The End

Do you need to tie up all loose ends?  I want this story to be mysterious and leave something to the imagination.  My promise is to resolve the story of Little Sparrow.  There will be lots of questions about Daniel and Cat.  These can be left to imagination or another time.

The end brings resolution to the story.  You don’t need to tie up all loose ends.  This raises the question: what makes for a satisfactory ending?  This story aims to build a sense of wonder.  We find ourselves in an unfamiliar world, where the rules are unclear.  The trick is to create a world that intrigues and builds a sense of wonder and that’s what we’ll look at next time. 


Humour in Storytelling

Humour is one example of emotion in storytelling; it has many uses.  Here is the beginning of a traditional story I’m working on.  It’s a sad story and I’m telling it next month, if I can control my emotions!

The Story of a Sparrow

Daniel has second sight.  This is rare.  Young children often make friends with Folk.  Adults rarely hold on to the sight.  Only his grandmother held it and what happened to her?  And then of course, cats always have the sight!

Who are Folk?  They have different names around the world.  They occupy the same time and space as we do but have their own concerns.  They fear us but have no need to hide since we cannot see or hear them.  They fear Daniel but at the same time they’re intrigued.  And so they appear monstrous and deranged (in self-defence) or graceful and delightful (if they want something).  They’re rarely malicious; that’s our way.

The hardest part for Daniel is making friends with people.  It is hard to concentrate in a conversation, with some creature gurning over their shoulder.  Imagine Daniel’s delight when a couple of school mates invited him to join them on a bike ride to Ladybower.  It was a long hot summer and the boys had heard water levels were way down, exposing the drowned village of Derwent.

They stood peering over the wall into the depths.  The smell was a bit rank but OK and then Daniel saw a figure, dancing down by the ruins of an old cottage.  Just for a moment and then it was gone.  They all felt the cold wind and Daniel fainted.

His friends brought him round and accompanied him home.  He assured them it was the heat and the cold, the shock had unsettled him.  He was worried but not for his health.  What had happened?  He laid on his bed.  His cat walked through the door and hissed.

This was odd.  The cat could see Folk and was usually easy with them, although disdainful.  “What is it?”, he asked.  The cat spat at him.  Daniel looked around, there were no spirits in the room.  Unless …   He opened his grandmother’s chest and hunted for her mirror.

Emotional Control

Humour is possible in any kind of story, even tragedy.  Just as comedy does not have to be funny, tragedy does not have to be entirely serious.  Consider therefore the purpose of using humour in storytelling.  

At the beginning of my story, I use a little humour, to help my audience accept the absurd premise of Folk.  Humour is one way to do that.  It is gentle humour in keeping with the atmosphere of the story. It will be a performance story and so I’ll be able to convey humour through voice and gesture too. We all know cats see more than we do.  Humour cuts through the sadness and helps the audience appreciate the story – once I’ve worked out how to do it! 

Humour’s an excellent way to communicate emotionally, where your story is deeply moving or traumatic.  When you tell a moving story, it is important, as you move into challenging parts of the story, you show emotion.  If you seem to the audience to be too preoccupied with the story and not enough with the emotional response of the audience, it won’t work. 

Always consider the emotion your audience feels.  If you lose control, you embarrass your audience.  Even though you don’t lose control, if the audience thinks you have, it can be just as embarrassing for them.

Use humour at the beginning to reassure the audience.  They may not know the story but as it progresses, the fact that you used humour at the start reassures.

When to Use Humour 

It depends when or if you use humour.  Humour takes many forms.  A serious story might use humour but you would not expect to roll in the aisles. 

For some stories, humour all the way through may be appropriate.  But generally, for business, I would not encourage this.  You’re demonstrating a problem and how to solve it.  Usually, humour all the way through undermines your message. 

The beginning of the story is perhaps best place for humour.  This is where you build relationship and trust with your audience.  Laughter or at least a gentle smile, can go a long way.  Show the audience they’re in safe hands.  If they trust you, they willingly experience anything with you. 

Humour works part way through.  The audience does not know the end of the story, so use humour to point them away from the eventual outcome.  This builds tension where the audience doesn’t expect the big negative at the heart of your story. 

Don’t End with Humour

This is good advice ,even for comic stories.  Where stories are conceived as comic, perhaps ending on a big joke is OK.  But if you tell a story from life, using it in a business context, humour at the end undermines your message.

It is particularly bad, in a serious story.  Describe some traumatic story, then end with a merry quip?  Not a good idea.  Even if the end is happy, honour the story that has gone before.  Aim for a response of hope or affirmation, not a belly laugh.

I heard a story about someone diagnosed with a genetic disorder.  He has a future of gradual decline, he’d already seen in his parents.  His story begins with a hilarious account of the tests he experienced to get the diagnosis.  He was genuinely expecting an all clear and so the story pivots on the letter with the test results.  After that humour would be out of place.  He found an affirmative note by describing the daughter they conceived as a result of the diagnosis and how he looks forward to seeing her grow into an adult.

His emotional journey is almost slapstick humour, the tests were on his sperm.  Then the shock of the diagnosis.  Then the affirmation of the birth of the child.  A joke at the end would undermine the story.


What happens if your humour turns out not to be funny?  This is something many find worrisome.  Is it better to avoid humour if you don’t have a talent for it?

You don’t know for certain until you try it with your audience.  You may find carefully crafted humour results in stunned looks.  Or you say something in a certain way and everyone laughs.  The best advice is don’t laugh at your own jokes and don’t pause in anticipation of laughter.  You may have to pause for a very loud laugh.  But don’t milk it.  Some audiences smile inwardly, appreciate the humour and don’t express it dramatically.  You don’t need to signal an intended joke.  You wouldn’t expect everyone to burst into tears at a sad point in the story, so why expect gales of laughter?  Silence does not imply humour is not appreciated.

Different people have different tastes.  I prepare my tea listening to Radio 4 at 6.30pm.  Sometimes, programmes at this time are laugh out loud funny, sometimes I follow intently, appreciating the wit but don’t laugh aloud and sometimes I wonder why the programme was commissioned. 

Presumably someone in the BBC appreciates all these programmes.  That I personally find some of them incomprehensible, does not mean there aren’t others who appreciate them.  The same applies to your stories. 

Even if you deliver the story to a live audience, you cannot be certain how much it is appreciated because audiences don’t always respond with obvious emotions.  The big advantage to going live is, if you see your audience, you pick up cues.

But lots of storytelling is not live.  Written and recorded stories invite feedback through comments but you rarely have any idea how your audience responds.  If you deliver the story live, it may give you some idea about how it goes down with an audience.  Then you can prepare a recorded version, although this is not always practical.

Humour is one way to capture and hold attention.  Next time, I’ll explore other ways to build suspense.

Rose and masks

Emotion in Storytelling

Emotion in storytelling is key to character development and makes your stories compelling. Here’s a story about boredom. How does it make you feel?

I’d like to say I’m never bored.  But then sports have always bored me.  Especially cricket!  I’ve been to a football match twice.  The first was Aberdeen versus Hearts and the second was Coventry versus Sheffield Wednesday (my inherited team).  At the last, we sat at the Coventry end.  Fortunately it was a no score draw, because with goals I’d have been out of synch with those around me. 

To be honest, I wasn’t bored!  I thought I would be.  I’d seen football on TV and found in the grounds you see the context, the teams’ strategies played out.  I’m still not interested but I see why many people are not bored by football.

I love opera and one of my favourites is Rosenkavalier.  It’s an opera you need to know to appreciate, especially if it’s in German.  There’s little action and whilst character development is profound, I imagine the whole thing is incomprehensible to some.  I remember taking a potential girlfriend.  Afterwards, she was no longer a potential girlfriend, if she ever was before.

Emotion in Storytelling is Artificial

It’s not the same as real life.  With 10 minutes to account for over several years; you cut an enormous amount!  The storyteller constructs everything, including emotions.

Aim to evoke an emotional response in your audience.  You do this deliberately or inadvertently.  Decide the response you want or else lose control.  Emotional responses you usually don’t want include boredom, revulsion, anger (aimed at you). 

Whilst you normally aim to finish on a note of laughter, joy or hope; many times you touch less positive emotions like sadness, anger at some injustice, worry, frustration …

Emotion and the Audience

Focus upon what you want your audience to feel at each stage of your story, whether you tell a story from experience or a fictional story.

When marketing, you have another concern.  What is your call to action?  How do you want your audience to respond, what would you like them to do?  What emotional state is likely to encourage them to respond?  Perhaps you present a problem and your solution to it.  So, leave your audience in a hopeful state.  Someone ready to buy is likely to be hopeful this purchase will solve their problem.

Often your audience passes through several emotional states as you tell your story.  A common pattern is laughter followed by sadness.  If you begin with humour, you do two things.  You build audience confidence.  Many fear the storyteller who seems likely to break down during telling a heavy story.  If you use humour, it shows you in control of your emotions.  Laughter also conceals the true nature of the story.  When the sad part comes along, it has more impact for not being expected. 

The challenge for the business owner is once you get to the sad part, how do you bring hope into the story?  Returning to laughter may work but often doesn’t; a merry quip at the end is rarely appropriate.  Something serious happened and you must honour that.  Finding that keynote of hope or affirmation is key to bringing your story to an end that inspires potential customers.

Wounds and Scars

There are two common problems using emotion in storytelling.  Usually emotions are more intense where you tell a story from experience but maybe some traditional stories cause you to choke up if they resonate with your story.

It takes time for wounds to heal.  If you tell a story in public too soon, you may encounter two waves of negative emotion.  The first is overwhelm as you speak.  The problem is not so much a public display of emotion, as losing sight of your audience’s emotional response.  A public performance is not a good place to hunt down your inner demons.  Your audience will work out you are not in control and lose trust in you.  The second wave may be remorse after you have told your story.

Discern whether you are ready to tell the challenging story.  Maybe you need to wait a few years.  Maybe therapy would help or telling the story to a trusted friend.  There is no compulsion to ever tell the story.  If you want to tell stories, you have many more.  I have heard speakers allude to other stories and when I ask in private, reply they are not ready to tell them. 

When you’re ready to tell a difficult story, the chances are it is a story many need to hear, a story told from scars.  The events you tell of are still a part of you but now you focus on your audience and their needs.

Beware, you can over control emotion in storytelling.  You become inured to suffering and tell the story in a mechanical way.  It is OK to choke up as you speak.  What you feel now may not be anything like what you felt then but you need to show you feel something!

Boredom can be Interesting!

Obviously, you should not bore your audience.  Everyone knows boredom.  They remember as kids, at home while it rains or in school conjugating verbs.  When you describe boredom, you trigger memories. 

Where were you bored?  Can you describe the bus stop where bored teenagers gathered and hung out?  When were you bored?  Was it as a kid or teenager?  Have you been bored in adult life? 

Boredom is not always having nothing to do.  The story at the head of this post describes adult boredom.  Hopefully it shows boredom can entertain!

I could do more with that story but you can see its potential.  The only rule is, don’t bore your audience!  One way to entertain your audience with boredom is to use humour.  Humour has several roles in storytelling but maybe not what you would think.  Find out more next time.

couple walking together

Stay in the Moment to Tell Better Stories

How do you stay in the moment and manage events in past and future from that moment?  The anime Toradora is a consummate example of a love story.  It builds forwards and backwards (see below) and I strongly recommend it, to explore this aspect of storytelling.  The following describes a subplot and does not give much away.

Ryugi is the protagonist and his mother is extraordinary.  He is a schoolboy, deeply committed to cleaning and cooking.  If he sees something that needs cleaning or tidying, he’s on to it.  Yes, he actually enjoys housework!  His mother works in a bar, where she has an alter ego, who is about 20 years younger.  She is lazy, clingy and funny.  Ryugi is devoted to her and embarrassed by her. 

At first, she seems to be a brilliant comic creation.  As the main plot comes to a head, we realise there’s a subplot.  There are reasons things are as they are between them.  What we thought was purely a running gag turns out to be much more.  They’re rock solid, devoted to each other but when does a mother tell her son the truth?  If you watch expecting a revelation, when it comes it seems minor.  It’s over in a sentence or two but explains what has gone before and something of what follows.

This is brilliant storytelling because we think a comic subplot is solely for entertainment until we see another story going on beneath the main story.  When we stay in the moment, we build tension and mystery that creates satisfaction in the audience when revealed.

Don’t Prefigure!

Stories are spoiled if the teller lacks faith in their story; they’re strongly tempted to reassure their audience all turns out well.  “I’m going to tell you the story of my breakdown and how I got through it.”  That’s not a good way to start.  You don’t occupy the moment of the story but some future time, looking back.

Say your breakdown was triggered by witnessing something in the street.  You could start with “I was walking down the street a few yards from home …” or better “I’m late, have just left home and hurrying down the street …”.  Both contain the same information.  In the second you stay in the moment.  The first is OK but the second feels more immediate.

It puts you in a frame of mind where you know only what you knew at the time.  You’re less likely to continue with “Little did I know, I was about to witness something that would cause a breakdown that took me years to recover from.”  This may seem a good way forward.  After all, what could possibly have happened that caused such a reaction?  In effect, it moves the focus to the event that precipitated the crisis and away from how the protagonist recovered. 

Say you continue like this, “As I rounded the corner. I saw …”.  Whatever it was, you are now in a position to describe it as you saw it.  It was a moment that held you prisoner for some years.  At the start of the story, the protagonist didn’t know what they’d get into or whether they’d get out of it. 

Their presence, telling the story, is perhaps a spoiler.  This is essentially a Voyage and Return story and so the precipitating event, however dramatic, is not really that important.  The protagonist enters a new world and has to find their way back.

The Art of Surprise

Whatever’s waiting around the corner is a surprise.  If truly surprising, you want to build tension.  But the real challenge is how to hold attention for the rest of the story. 

Some event precipitated a breakdown.  What did you lose?  What did you almost lose?  You might have contemplated suicide but you’re stood in front of an audience, so there’s no surprise there. 

Your first task is to describe the new world you occupy.  Maybe you lost your job, your family or became addicted to something … Were you drawn in by something that at first seemed positive and then proved to be a disaster? 

Take the audience to a dark place. The tension is in how you get out of it.  At the darkest time, you could not see your way out.  So, when you take your audience with you, neither should they.

Sow seeds earlier in the story. If the audience does not see their significance until later, you surprise them with something that feels right.  The reveal is not an intervention from God but something that flows from what went before and makes sense later in the story.

Building Forwards and Backwards

Let’s say you have a couple of main characters.  If you have the space of a novel, you can manage more.  Game of Thrones is gripping because it has many characters and several tell the story from their own point of view. Each of the 7 or more volumes is weighty!

We’ll stick with two.  Explore the relationship between them.  There are two ways (at least) to do that. 

Building Forwards. Follow their interactions.  Boy meets girl and they walk home together from school.  They talk.   They argue.  We know where this is going.  The tension is in how they overcome the obstacles to their growing relationship.  The problems they encounter show the differences in the way they approach them.  What happens as they learn to work together? 

If one of them is the protagonist, tell the story from their point of view. They have no idea what’s happening inside the other’s head.  They watch and learn and the other does the same.  As we listen, we ask whether they are right for each other.  How will this end?

Building Backwards.  Another way to build character, tension and surprise your audience is through their past.  What we see is rooted in some unknown past event.  Now the story depends on some revelation that clears the air between the two characters.

The technique is to drop hints and clues.  The best are disguised as window dressing.  What seems an arbitrary quirk, turns out to be rooted in something important that needs to be brought to light.  Handled well, you feel tension building because one or more characters act in apparently inexplicable ways.  Or perhaps the revelation resolves something for another character, causing them to act in an unexpected way. 

Both ways build tension and tension resolves through emotion.  Understanding emotion and how to use it in written and spoken stories is the art of the storyteller and the topic for next time.

Footsteps in Sand

Character Development: The Point of Your Story

Last time I looked at how to introduce characters into your story.  This time it’s character development, perhaps the most important topic to storytelling because without it, there is no story.

Here’s a continuation of last time’s story:

My team had a plan but did not share it with me.  They knew about my bereavement and so things flowed a little easier.  What they didn’t tell me was they sheltered me from bad news.  So, my decisions were still way off because I did not have the full picture.

They fielded my instructions and responded to situations as they understood them.  Mostly they were on the ball but didn’t follow instructions.  This led to more conflict.  When I started disciplinary procedures, I had to face a delegation from the staff.

I stopped them hiding bad news. Despite several mistakes, they’d taken initiative and overall done pretty well.  I had to change the way I worked; allocate more responsibility and trust my team.  With permission to speak to me, if I was too directive, I made a real effort to listen.

My team responded and gradually we hammered out how to work productively.  

The Hero’s Journey

This outline story shows how someone changed their management style.  Note the scope for character development, not just the protagonist’s but also for one or more members of his team. 

The hero, sometimes called protagonist, is the main character.  He or she is the person we root for.  They are always inadequate to the task.  They want to achieve something but are not equipped to do it.

Their story shows how they acquire what they need for success.  Their needs may be external, eg wealth or weapons, or internal, character development.  Often external needs are met through character development.  Indeed, grabbing external advantage before they are internally prepared is disastrous.  Tragedy is about a hero who oversteps the mark and pays for it later.

Christopher Booker’s seven basic plots have, with the possible exception of Comedy, a similar five-fold structure:

  1. An initial challenge taken up by the hero.
  2. Early good progress.
  3. Barriers, obstructions, temptations encountered.
  4. A final confrontation, where the hero almost loses.
  5. Final victory (or defeat) and the aftermath. 

It is possible to tell a story with little or no character development, eg James Bond is reset at the beginning of each film.  But mostly we are interested in how the hero finds the resources they need to meet their goal.

You Are the Protagonist

What happens when you are the protagonist?  It’s possible you can’t see how your character developed.  This is one reason personal stories seem less compelling than fiction. 

Some people go through significant trauma and emerge with a clear image of how they were before and how they are now.  Leaving aside how accurate their picture is, they at least have a compelling story.  If you listen to their story over time, they revise their story as their understanding deepens.

What about the rest of us? 

Here are a few thoughts.

  • Talk to others involved in your story.  Ask them to tell it from their perspective.  Find out what changes they saw in you.  You don’t need to include everyone present at the time.  In the story at the head of this post, it is not even clear how many were in the team.  You could name and develop one or more team members, leaving the rest anonymous.
  • Rehearse your story, telling it from the perspective of other characters.  Do this with or without interviewing them.  Imagine the changes they perceived.  You could be biased but in private there’s no need to be.
  • Rehearse with others present and invite feedback.  Does this ring true?  If they are part of the story, they can perhaps be more helpful but even people who were not present may raise helpful insights.
  • Introduce more characters into the story.  Villains are particularly good at uncovering the hero’s weaknesses.  Anyone can challenge the hero, though and a guide or support character can be just as helpful.
  • Or introduce more threats into the hero’s journey.  Give them more to overcome.  This shows up weaknesses and hidden strengths.

Telling a story from real life, you inevitably summarise what might have been a long complex story.  You should include incidents that serve character development for the hero and possibly other characters.

More Than One Character

Time is a big constraint for most business storytellers, with a few minutes to tell their story.  Whilst character development is possible, what happens when there is more than one character?

You don’t have to be the hero of your own story!  A parent, spouse or business partner might take on that role.  Try out your story with various heroes and see what happens!

However, you don’t have the space to tell a complex story, like the novelist or writer of TV series, anime and the like.  When you have more time, you can develop several characters.  

What can you do in a few minutes?

Some characters are ciphers.  If there is a doctor in your story, you don’t have to say much about them.   We all know what doctors do and mostly make do with that general idea.  Your doctor needs no name, sex or age, unless such information is important to the story.

The next step up is characters you describe but don’t develop.  Your team has four members called A B C and D.  Name them and explain what they bring to the team in support of your goal.  They interact with you and each other but you don’t need to focus on their development.

Slowly reveal their powers.  Don’t include everything about them in your first description.  Seed hidden powers early in the story, so when they’re revealed it is not as a sudden escape hatch.  This helps the audience feel they are getting to know the character without spending a lot of time on development.  These characters are predictable but that’s OK so long as they have a role in the story.

If a secondary character develops alongside the hero, we expect it to be someone who matters to the hero.  A villain who interacts with the hero, for example.  If the story is about a relationship, perhaps leading to marriage, then expect some character development in the partner. 

Bear in mind the voice the story is in.  If it is told from the point of view of the protagonist, they do not have access to the innermost thoughts of other characters.  In a love story, for example, they don’t know what the other is thinking.  You can have a lot of fun with that but when the other’s thoughts are revealed it is still a reveal and not necessarily character development.

And this leads us to the topic of the next post: staying in the moment as understood by the protagonist.  This allows other characters to be surprising, even though as characters they might not develop.