storytelling

The How And Why Of Powerful Storytelling

Each one of us must have read books or heard stories during our younger days which leap into our consciousness even today as clearly as is if we had read them or heard them yesterday. How and why does this happen?

The mind tells its own stories
As we read, or see a movie, our minds go on their own little travels..creating strong associations, filling in gaps in the story and playing the guessing game about ‘What’s next?’. Of course, now there’s so much research based on neuroscience about how storytelling impacts the brain. This article is not about the bio-chemical connection between story and the brain. It is about the fine art of storytelling.

So what makes for Powerful Storytelling?
Just as The Mahabharata is a memorable story, there are others which are so forgettable. So, let’s look at elements of great stories ~

The Power of Emotions
When we read passages in a story with strong emotional content, they evoke equally strong emotional reactions in us. An engaging story manages to grab us by the scruff of the neck and does not let go. We begin relating with the characters, their circumstances and ‘feel their feelings’.

We resonate with stories which echo our own experiences.
If you mentally scan through your all time favorite stories, you’ll realise emotional content ranks up there in most of them, especially where you ‘played’ one of the characters, felt the connect. The story was thus relatable.

Visual Storytelling
As we read a bunch of words we create a visual of it in the mind and that’s what we usually recall. Therefore, the more detailed the visual description in the narrative, the more it draws us in. The mind projects a vivid cinematic experience, complete with 3D visuals, sounds and emotions, difficult to forget. Take for instance, the great epics like the Mahabharata. When you recall a battle scene, do you recall a paragraph or do you recall a ‘scene’? This is the magic of story, for it involves all our senses.

Visuals too tell a Story!
Just as words create an image in our minds, powerful images tell their own stories. That is why it is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. (I had shot this image during our trip to Mulshi near Lonavala.)
Inspirational Storytelling
We love our heroes, don’t we! For we want the paper hero to do things we aspire to do but can’t! So the greater the odds, more imposing the villain, our admiration for the hero grows. Before we know it, the master writer has us wearing the hero’s shoes! We carry the hope in the mind that no matter what, the hero will win in the end, as if our own fortunes depend on her or him! Great stories have the ability to inspire, transform and incite action. Even without having set out to do so, many great writers have been change agents over generations.

The Mind is a Voyeur on a rampage!
Aha! the sadistic mind! We love to see the hero go through the wringer before he wins. It’s easy from the outside isn’t it? Nobody loves a tame, predictable battle. We don’t mind being shocked and shaken so far as it is happening to ‘someone else’. Also, we love contrast. Contrast between emotions, circumstances, people and so on. So, let it get worse before it begins to get any better!

Fiction as a vehicle
Many truths are unpalatable. Or plain boring. Such as data. Why not weave a story around it? Incidentally, the books which were most impactful in my formative years were also great works of fiction. I can still remember with vivid detail the characters, events and stories of modern great works such as The Godfather and The Day of the Jackal…although four decades have elapsed since reading them! The advantage with fiction is that the storyteller can let his imagination run riot. The message, if there is a central one, can be conveyed in a far more interesting format and with greater freedom.

Love Stories
We all love to love, as we are beings of compassion. Therefore, even if the story is a crime thriller, don’t we like some human element in it? The tough as nails hero with a heart that has room for love. Bollywood has seen possibly the largest chunk of stories powered by love. Blockbusters were in one era dominated by this genre and they still have relevance.
I have used several fictional love stories to simulate real life situations in my Book: here’s an entire Chapter from it~ ‘An Unlikely Love Story.

Strong Characters
What do we recall from fantastic stories? Howard Roark from The Fountainheadis quite a memorable character, difficult to dislodge from our minds. Or an iconic villain, Gabbar Singh from Sholay, who became such a cult figure overnight that he overshadowed the rest of the cast.

Poetic verses
There’s a unique eloquence about poetry. I am a fan and often experiment with the form. Poems add an artistic dimension to writing which appeals to our higher tastes. The same goes for a song that tells a story.

How can we use this knowledge to further our professions?
More about it in my next post.

P.S.:
In my own Book, I have used all these forms to engage the reader. That’s because my story is of great significance to society. Gratifyingly, it is making the desired impact and has received very encouraging reviews across the world.
Of them, the most flattering pieces of feedback came in from Author & Master Storyteller, Raju Mandhyan~

Finished the book in two sittings by the poolside. I thought it was a fascinating dance of emotions, angst and transformations. The amazing thing was that the dancer himself was an insightful and empathetic observer. Beautiful piece of work! The book is beyond being heart-wrenchingly insightful and is also very well written. The stories spill out as aroma does from flowers.”

A Glimpse from the Book ~
‘A gentle breeze caresses the sea
and the waves lap it up with glee.
Then a storm brews on the horizon
Ruffling the waters as it approaches, soon.
At its crescendo, the waves plead for mercy
Mercy there is none as it unleashes a tsunami.
Everything is torn in its wake, by its ferocity
The very same sea that had been calm as a lake.
The heights and depths challenge each other
In a tussle that is all consuming, seems forever..
Giving in, spent, exhausted the waves fall
As if nothing had happened at all.’

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Vijay Nalawalla

Storyteller who helps people build their Personal Brands
Author, Blogger, compassionate human being.