How to be a storyteller

“The stories we tell literally make our world.” Michael Margolis in his Believe Me Story Manifesto.

Ask anyone about their lives and they’ll always be able to relate to a character in a well-known story. From Chandler in Friends to Donal Logue in Terriers, I’ve done the exact same thing. Before tools like Pagely existed, art almost always imitated life. Now because of the ubiquity and accessibility of online publishing, whether audio, video, text or a combination of all three, we’re all storytellers and characters in the stories of our lives.

We’d like to pass on some advice that will help you become a better storyteller. Don’t take the points verbatim, as our muse in this case was a fiction writer, but rather as a guide for the next time you write a blog post about your day, a memo for your workgroup or even a letter for the holidays.

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
Be interesting. Tell your stories in the way you’d like to read them. Imagine yourself as a character in West Wing and write like that.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
This could be you, it could be your child or spouse or a colleague. Readers want someone/thing to get behind.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
Everyone always wants something. Let us know what that is and why they want it.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
Brevity is key. While telling a story in 140-character bursts may not suffice, take care to make what you’re writing count. Remember, many times it’s beneficial to reveal YOUR character.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.
Too much prologue bores people. Too many remedial sentences at the beginning (usually for new readers) will bore those people who are subscribers from the beginning.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
For non-fiction, be sure to tell the WHOLE story, not just the parts that advance the story. Plenty of us overcome nagging problems, illnesses or roadblocks daily, share all of those to connect the reader with your story.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
Many beginning bloggers, writers and authors make this mistake. They think that in order to be popular they must appeal to everyone, which is flat out wrong. Many authors become popular based on the power of their stories, rather than their choice of subject matter.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Cliffhangers are a great way to alienate readers. LOST can get away with it, but let’s pretend your podcast or blog isn’t a multi-million dollar production on a major TV network. Tell people who your characters are and what they want as early.

We’re all storytellers now. Let us help you to tell yours.


Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing


  1. Elizabeth Newlin
    Elizabeth Newlin

    I adore KV.


  2. Right Time
    Right Time

    Point 6: sadism. Very accurate and relevant. There is a reason why tearjerkers and dramas get so many ticket and DVD sales. Get your readers emotionally invested in your characters…. and then kill them. Simple!


    1. Tyler Hurst
      Tyler Hurst

      Yes. Like Bruce Willis in Armageddon. Gets me every time.