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Story sounds like a simple word. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is incredibly complex.

A complex story might be a feature film or a book series like The Hobbit or Harry Potter. A Broadway play or even Ted Talks are stories. Then again, it could be as simple as you relating a situation that happened at work to a friend.

All humans are natural story creators and storytellers. If you question that statement, watch young kids at play. (make sure you are accompanied by another adult. LOL) Their make-believe is just another word for story creator, and their storyteller is their narrative bringing friends into their story.

When I was young, I was pretty good at coming up with stories to try and get myself out of trouble, but my mom would always run cover for me, telling my sisters, “he isn’t lying. He is just telling a story.”

Here is one of my favorite boyhood tales substantiating I was a storyteller at an early age. Sometime during grade school, let’s say fourth or fifth grade, I had a book report due. Since I was not big on school and sucked at reading, I never read a book for the assignment. (It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I discovered I was severely dyslectic. Hence my dislike for school and reading)

Back to the story, the day of the book report, which I hadn’t done, while walking to school, I saw an old hardcover book lying on top of someone’s garbage. (no plastic garbage bags in those days, just metal curbside garbage cans) On the cover of this old book was a small picture of an old western cowboy on a bronco. The title of the book was The Oregon Trail.

I picked the book out of the garbage, brushed off the dust, and carried it to school. Now I had a book for my report. When it was my turn to stand in front of the class and give my report, I jumped into storytelling mode and rattled off a complete summary of my book, The ORANGE TRAIL. Yup, I called the book The Orange Trail, not The Oregon Trail. For all of you dyslectic folks, you get it.

I did such a good job telling my then-unknown, made-up story about a book that I didn’t even get the title right. The teacher was so impressed she gave me an A. That A last until I handed her the book and she saw the title. After a second of flipping pages, the A went to an F and was accompanied by a note home to my mother.

Mom was not proud of my storytelling abilities at that moment.

Like all human traits, some folks are instinctively better at some traits than others. But the gift of story is born into all of us. We just have to rediscover that kid and expand those skills.

Storytelling has been a significant part of human evolution since the beginning of time. Each time we evolve a new way of telling a story, the techniques of telling the story also have to evolve. In tribal times each village or tribe had a storyteller. That person was the keeper of the tribe’s history and major events. This position existed from generation to generation, passing along the story content and skills needed for the telling.

With the development of the written word, storytelling expanded from telling the story in person to another to anyone with access to the written tablet or scroll being able to read and reread the story at any time. The person reading the tablet became their own personal storyteller, interpreting the written words in their own manner.

The next step was the printing press, which allowed the story to be accessible to the masses and reproduced easily. After that came the recorded audible word on a cylinder; thank you, Mr. Edison. Then vinyl records and tape. Digitizing audio signals lead to the CD and eventually to MP4. Today we have millions of story creators and storytellers curtsey of social media.

As with all technological evolution comes pros and cons. If you’re a natural storyteller in your tribe or family, great. But you must develop your intuitive skills if you want to expand to larger audiences and utilize various technologies. Relating to large groups of diverse people is tricky.

In our creative world, becoming a good storyteller is critical. If you’re going to create the story and hand it off to someone else to bring it to life, cool, storytelling isn’t that critical. But suppose you are trying to communicate your story to a Lighting Director who needs to appreciate your vision in aspects relating to lighting. In that case, you’ll need the skills of a good storyteller. A storyteller who understands how to compress the storytelling to what’s essential for the LD.

This holds true for every facet of the collaboration process. Everyone needs to see and feel your vision of the story. If you’re in a pitch meeting, whether it’s a film, music, book, or TV series, you must be able to rif your story intensely, effectively, and quickly.

That last point is the key… quickly.

If you’re the story’s creator, you probably believe every nuance of the story is essential and critical to your vision. NOPE! This isn’t story-creator time. It’s efficient storyteller time. This is the time to give them the story arc and move on to highlights. You know the term “elevator pitch.” They should add to that phrase that there are only three floors the elevator will travel.

As I’ve said earlier, there are major differences between the storyteller and the story creator. Many times, they are the same person, but not always. Whether you’re creating the story or telling the story, each needs a different set of skills.

A story creator is a person (s) who creates a storyline from start to finish and leaves the telling to someone else. i.e., Screenplay writer to the film director. A songwriter to a musician. Play write to the cast. A book author to the narrator for an Audible book version.

You get that, right? Both the story and the telling of the story are important to transporting your audience into the story.

When my kids were young, I, like most parents, read our kids bedtime stories. (Because my work hours were unconventional, those bedtime stories could happen any time.) These bedtime stories were written by “story creators .”As the “storyteller,” I would bring the story to life by creating character voices and sound FXs, and if I was really sleep deprived, I’d physically act out the parts.

Eventually, my kids and I got bored with other people’s stories, so we started making up our own, which included my kids as characters in these stories. The stories would be stream of consciousnesses or, more appropriately, stream of unconsciousness. I had no idea what the storyline was or where it was going once I got started.

But the story’s content didn’t matter when the storyteller kicked in. Most of the time, I’d let them develop the storyline by me throwing out questions to them like, “And then what do you think they saw … now what did they do… or what happened to them after that” I guess that was them collaborating on story creation and I focused on storytelling.

I remember once in a parking lot waiting for someone, I can’t remember who. I threw in classical music cassette into the cassette player in the car (yea, I had a cassette player in my car haha), and we started creating a story to the music. I was a huge Warner Brothers animation fan, especially Bugs Bunny, so story laid against orchestration was my jam. What was hysterical was when the music kicked into high gear, the story had to keep pace with the music, and then all hell broke loose in the car with kids yelling ideas and jumping around as the music reached a feverish pitch. It was story creation and storytelling on steroids.

Some people might have thought it weird that a grown man and three late teens were sitting in a parking lot, jumping around and screaming out scene and storyline ideas. LOLOLOL, I’m only kidding. My kids were four, seven, and nine. By the time they were teens, I was considered an embarrassment. hahah. 

Ultimately, you need to be aware that story creation and storytelling need different skills and talents. If you have an aptitude for one, you should try and develop the skills and talents for the other. You never know when you will be called upon to roll out a story while sitting in your car with your kids.

Fast track your entertainment production career