How to tell a good story

Have you ever wondered what makes a story stand out or how to tell a good story? As I was reading, Stories that Stick by Kindra Hall, she discusses the key elements of a story and how you can use storytelling for your business. She highlights that everyone has stories to tell and the importance of using the right story.

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Main impacts

These are the main themes that stood out to me:

  1. Four parts of a story
  2. Everyone has stories to tell
  3. Tell the story that fits

Continue reading to find out more about each one.

Four parts of a story

Kindra starts the book by outlining what she believes to be the key parts of a story. Interestingly, these are not stages of a story, but rather elements of a story.

These are the four parts of a story according to Kindra:

  1. Identifiable Character(s):
    • These are characters that your audience can relate to, care about and connect to. Importantly, these are not “heros”, you don’t need a “hero” for a story, you just need relatable and authentic characters.
  2. Authentic Emotion:
    • You need to have clear emotions felt by the characters that your audience can easily identify. This allows your audience to build an emotional connection with the story and characters, and have empathy for the story.
  3. Significant Moment:
    • A story tends to focus on a specific moment or experience. As well as showing the difference in the characters before and after that moment, such as how their lives changed because of that experience.
  4. Specific Details:
    • Finally, a story needs to have specific details that make it relevant and connect with the audience. If your audience are primarily parents, highlight a moment that is specific to being a parent, such as a first day of school or the endless amount of laundry that piles up.

I feel like when most people talk about the parts of a story, they discuss the stages of a story (see my other post here), such as the the hero facing a problem or the climax of the story. But the parts of the story that Kindra outlines are unique because they are more general, and are elements or aspects of a story.

I find these parts of a story more open ended, which makes them easier to incorporate into any story, from an epic novel to a short 10-30 second advertisement. They are also easy to use along side other storytelling advice (ex: the stages of a story) to add even more depth to your story.

Everyone has stories to tell

We all have stories to tell and any moment can spark a story. It doesn’t need to be revolutionary or life changing, it just need to focus on a specific moment. Any moment can be made into a story, it just needs to be framed properly and highlight the right details.

If you’re struggling to come up with a story, sometimes you just need time to think about your experiences. Everyone has stories to tell, you might just need some prompting to view it as a story.

Here are some ways to find a story to tell:

  • You can ask yourself: “When did I first realize….”
  • Use nouns to get you started on a story or thinking about firsts: think about specific nouns and build your story around it (nouns such as an item, place, person, etc.).
  • Start with a specific moment, and describe how it was before and after that moment: what changed, why did it change, how did you feel, etc.

The more experience you have with telling stories, the easier it will be to frame any moment as a story. It’s definitely a skill that gets better with experience.

It’s also a skill that benefits from being exposed to good examples of stories, so pay attention to what movies/books/ads/shows/etc. stand out to you and which stories you find the most compelling. There are also good examples of stories throughout this book, with explanations of why we find them compelling.

Tell the story that fits

The book starts by outlining parts of a story, then discusses different types of stories that most businesses will need. Stories are useful not just to build your brand or sell your products, but are useful throughout your business’ growth and development.

When discussing the type of story, a key part was finding one that is relevant and conveys the message you want to share.

You don’t want to share just any story, it needs to fit the moment and complement your message. Pick the story that has the same elements as your message. If you want to highlight a specific emotion or character trait, make sure the story reflects that.

You don’t need to pick the most traumatic or shocking story. Sometimes those are not a good fit and may even cause more harm to those you’re trying to help.

For instance, if you are trying to fundraise, you don’t need to share the most traumatic or tragic story. Rather, you need the story that conveys the themes you want to share and give people a reason to contribute. Spend time thinking about the purpose of the event/organization and how can you show that you’re accomplishing it. That way others will feel compelled to aide in your ongoing success. If fundraising for a school, rather than focusing on struggling students, focus on how the teachers are successfully supporting the students.

Final thoughts

This is the second book that I’ve read about storytelling, the other one was called Building a Storybrand (you can find my post on it here). However, this book was very different than the storybrand discussion, especially when discussing parts of a story. The storybrand book focused more on the stages and progression of a story, whereas this focused on general aspects of a story. Since the two perspectives were so different, I find you can integrate the two together to make your story even stronger.

The two books differed on the type of stories they talked about. Building a Storybrand was all about branding your organization and product, whereas this book discussed multiple types of stories a business may need throughout their development, each having their own focus or purpose.

I found this book further developed my understanding and thoughts around storytelling, which just goes to show how useful it is to hear different people’s thoughts on similar topics and read multiple books on the same topic. No two people will discuss a topic in the same way. The more you read on a topic, the more you may see similarities, but you’ll likely still learn something new.


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