Storytelling 101: How to improve telling your personal story

by DGO Web Administrator

Great storytelling can overcome cultural differences, gender differences, and even language barriers.

“There are stories everywhere that are worth telling,” said Stacey Sotosky, a documentary filmmaker and assistant professor in journalism and multimedia studies at Fort Lewis College. “Every person has many stories that are valuable towards others.”

There are rules to making your own story compelling and connect with people around you, whether through conversation, in writing, or other expressive ways.

“Stories need to have all the basic plot points to be successful – a hook, characters that are relatable, and a universal theme that is clear in the presentation of the piece,” she said. “They need to have surprise and a call for the audience to reflect on themselves and their own experience – something the audience can put in their pocket.”

To do this, storytellers should focus their story on a universal theme. This is what Sotosky calls the “human common denominator.” She said the most common of those denominators – themes that attribute to all life experience – are love and fear.

“The reason why there are so many love songs is that we can all relate to those emotions,” she said.

And Sotosky said there is no reason to embellish or exaggerate a story.

As a documentary filmmaker, Sotosky said there are ethical guidelines to follow, but there is a lot of manipulation when it comes to editing and framing the story.

“The goal is to go to a climax and have some transformation, resolution, or solution,” she said. “Audiences subconsciously want those components to be satisfied with a story.”

When we tell our own personal stories on social media, those components are missing, and people are left to fill in the gaps.

“It’s much more difficult to tell a cohesive story with (social media) platforms,” Sotosky said. “We have the power to construct our (persona) so we want to do so in a way that is safe and constructs our best selves. There is a disjunct there.”

In order to be better storytellers in our personal lives, we have to get rid of the bullshit.

“Vulnerability is key,” Sotosky said. “You want to create empathy and connection. (That means) not always try to project perfection … You want to say, ‘This is really hard for me.’ That removes the facade of the boundaries that exist between humans to know that they’re not alone.”


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