Storytelling-600-605x400Telling stories is a powerful way of engaging people and sharing knowledge.  These quotes sum up the power of story:

“Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, challenge. They help us understand. They imprint a picture on our minds. Consequently, stories often pack more punch than sermons. Want to make a point or raise an issue? Tell a story.” Janet Litherland

Why Stories?

The storytelling company Anecdote have some great resources available to assist budding storytellers.    I really like this breakdown of the reasons behind why stories work – I recommend you follow the links to read the paper that explains why stories can achieve these outcomes.

  1. Stories reveal what is really happening in your organisation.
  2. Stories inspire us to take action.
  3. Stories stick in your mind much better than dot points and clever arguments.
  4. Stories connect us to a purpose and improve our performance.
  5. Stories share and embed values.
The Story Spine

One of the most useful resources for learning how to tell a great story is to use the story spine.  There is debate over who developed the Story Spine, and I copied this article about the Story Spine from Aerogrammes Writer’s Studio article entitled ‘ The Story Spine Pixar’s 4th Rule of Storytelling’.

Regardless of the original source, the seven sentences that follow can help you start writing a story and build it, scene by scene, to its climax and resolution. And it all begins with those familiar four words:

Once upon a time…
Whether you use these exact words or not, this opening reminds us that our first responsibility as storytellers is to introduce our characters and setting – i.e., to fix the story in time and space. Instinctively, your audience wants to know: Who is the story about? Where are they, and when is all this taking place? You don’t have to provide every detail, but you must supply enough information, says McDonald, “so the audience has everything it needs to know to understand the story that is to follow.”



And every day…
With characters and setting established, you can begin to tell the audience what life is like in this world every day. In The Wizard of Oz, for example, the opening scenes establish that Dorothy feels ignored, unloved, and dreams of a better place “over the rainbow.” This is Dorothy’s “world in balance,” and don’t be confused by the term “balance.” It does not imply that all is well – only that this is how things are.

Until one day…
Something happens that throws the main character’s world out of balance, forcing them to do something, change something, attain something that will either restore the old balance or establish a new equilibrium. In story structure, this moment is referred to as the inciting incident, and it’s the pivotal event that launches the story. In The Wizard of Oz, the tornado provides the inciting incident by apparently transporting Dorothy far, far away from home.

And because of this…
Your main character (or “protagonist”) begins the pursuit of his or her goal. In structural terms, this is the beginning of Act II, the main body of the story. After being literally dropped into the Land of Oz, Dorothy desperately wants to return home, but she is told that the only person who can help her lives far away. So she must journey by foot to the Emerald City to meet a mysterious wizard. Along the way she will encounter several obstacles (apple-throwing trees, flying monkeys, etc.) but these only make the narrative more interesting.

And because of this…
Dorothy achieves her first objective – meeting the Wizard of Oz – but this is not the end of her story. Because of this meeting, she now has another objective: kill the Wicked Witch of the West and deliver her broomstick to the Wizard. “In shorter stories,” says McDonald, “you may have only one ‘because of this,’ but you need at least one.”

Until finally…
We enter Act III and approach the story’s moment of truth. Dorothy succeeds in her task and presents the Wizard with the deceased witch’s broom, so now he must make good on his promise to help her return to Kansas. And this he does, but not quite in the way we initially expect.

And ever since that day…
Once we know what happened, the closing scenes tell us what the story means for the protagonist, for others in the narrative, and (not least of all) for those of us in the audience. When Dorothy awakens in her own bed and realizes she never actually left Kansas, she learns the lesson of the story: what we’re looking for is often inside us all along.

The next time you get stuck while writing a story, try walking your narrative through these steps.

True Tales of the Trout CodFew people can envisage the bountiful fish life that once existed throughout Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin.  To get a true picture we have to look to the past, and Will Trueman has done that with “True Tales of the Trout Cod”.  By collating historical descriptions of the fish and rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin, ‘True Tales’ provides a window into a lost world through the use of story.  We can trace the changes in fish and rivers and learn from the mistakes of the past.  By working with Will, this project has produced nine River History booklets, seventeen films focusing on different rivers in the Basin, and a website that provides people with free access to these wonderful and amazing stories.  True Tales is a great example of how science and story can work together to share knowledge and inspire action.  To explore these stories go to the True Tales website.

Andrew Stanton – Clues to a great story

Filmmaker Andrew Stanton (“Toy Story,” “WALL-E”) shares what he knows about storytelling — starting at the end and working back to the beginning.  Follow this link to watch Andrew.

Jonathon Drori – Every pollen grain tells a story

Pollen goes unnoticed by most of us, except when hay fever strikes. But microscopes reveal it comes in stunning colors and shapes — and travels remarkably well. Jonathan Drori gives an up-close glimpse of these fascinating flecks of plant courtship.  He tells a terrific story and the photographs are amazing!  Follow this link to watch Jonathon.

Siwan Lovett – Power of Story

The links below take you to a presentation on the Power of Story that the ARRC prepared for the Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne, February 2011.  It is in three parts and we encourage you to watch all three to get the full ‘story’.  We have also provided you with the opportunity to see the slides that are talked about in the presentation, so that you can see what it is we talk about during our discussion.  It was a great event and we welcome any insights or recommendations from you about other videos we can link to that communicate the effectiveness of story in science communication.

Power of Story (1)
Theory behind Story (2)
The Five P Story (3)

Siwan Lovett Power of Story Presentation (available as a pdf) to accompany video

“A story is a vehicle that puts facts into an emotional context. The information in a story doesn’t just sit there as it would in a list or data dump. Instead, it’s built to create suspense and engage your listener in its call to action. Facts and figures are memorable to computers, not to people.” Peter Guber

We also want to provide you with the opportunity to explore other ways to share stories.  Some of our favourites are Place Stories and the ABC’s Heywire which features compelling short stories about people living and working across rural and urban Australia, and Insightshare which we have only just discovered.

A big thank you to Bruce Boyes for pointing me to the Greenstyle channel on YouTube.  This initiative from a group of Sydney Local Government areas is a brilliant idea.

Another one you might enjoy is Knowledge Impact in Society – Academic knowledge making a difference in rural Ontorio – their success stories are worth a look.

Digital storytelling

Storytelling is among the oldest forms of exchange of knowledge between people. It is certainly one of the most resilient forms. With the introduction of inexpensive digital equipment, it is now becoming one of the most effective methods for deep contextual understanding to be shared widely across diverse and distant audiences.  Click here to learn more about a project in Canada using digital storytelling for communities trying to come to terms with the implications of climate change.

‘A picture tells a thousand words’

The photo director for National Geographic, David Griffin knows the power of photography to connect us to our world. In a talk filled with glorious images, he talks about how we all use photos to tell our stories.