Authors, Inspiration, Shelly Lowenkopf, storytelling, Toni Lopopolo, Writing, Writing classes, writing tips

Some Things You Should Know about Story (Six, to Be Precise)

The Storyteller-Michael Shaheen, Flickr
The Storyteller-Michael Shaheen, Flickr


Writers want to write the best possible stories they can. Often, like me, writers have the best of intentions but fall short on delivery.

There is an art to storytelling, in the written form, and we writers flock to find out just what makes up this art.

One of the best teachers I’ve come across is Shelly Lowenkopf, a USC professor, who has a Lifetime Achievement Award, and is a consultant and author.

I’d like to share a recent post he wrote on his agent’s blog

Toni Lopopolo Literary Management

By Shelly Lowenkopf

(1) Whose story is it?

A dramatic work has only one central character. There may be secondary characters of equal importance to the overall narrative, but in the vast majority of literary accomplishments from Dracula to Candide, Tootsie to RichardIII,Madame Bovary to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, there is only one central character. This character’s motive—what he/she wants in terms of a goal or objective–drives the story. This is the engine, the seminal force of the action. Action is the operant word in story, fluid and unrelenting, not to be confused with activity, which is often casual and directionless. The central character’s determination to follow what is often an obsessive course propels the action. This energy connects us to the central character. This dominant skein in a story commands our attention.

This imperative may also be subtle. Take Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet;

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Ira Glass, Jane Friedman, steps to storytelling, storytelling, Writing

Storytelling in 4 Easy Steps

I love it when I find a video that helps me learn. On Jane Friedman’s post the other day, she listed her favorite online video’s. This took me to four short video’s made by Ira Glass on the building blocks of a great story.

The first one, shown above, leads to the other three on YouTube. In all, you’ll spend approximately 18 minutes of your time hearing his thoughts on storytelling. If you’re like me you learn best when you hear and read material. To really make the lesson stick I also need to be in motion (take notes). That makes me an audio-visual-kinesthetic learner. What can I say, I need the extra help.

My new index card of notes is now up on my physical bulletin board, covering up the last few inches of the cream diamond pattern.

In abbreviated notes, here are the four easy steps to storytelling. Each one corresponds to a video segment:

  1. Anecdote leads to sequence of actions that throw out questions that leads to interesting moments of reflection.  
  2. Abandon crap. Failure is a big part of success. 
  3. Develop good taste. You can tell when your stuff isn’t as good as it can be or it’s missing that special thing. Everyone goes through this process.
  4. Don’t imitate, be your own person. Be interested in the story, not your ego. Interact with others.
That was easy, right? Do you have any favorite online video’s that you’d like to share? Perhaps I can make a list and share it next month.