The best way to learn how to tell stories is to analyze movies. If you study how movies are made, the next story you tell will look different. And people would love it, because we are hardwired to understand them.
Every movie is divided in three acts: Beginning, middle, end. There’s no reason to change this. People are hardwired to understand this structure, so following these three acts helps people to follow the story. After that you can add several acts inside them, but the main layout remains.
Every movie has a concept, theme and genre. Without them, the story would be sloppy and there would be no emotional engagement. Writers know this. So they define them before the start working on the story. Here’s interesting to know the difference between concept and theme. In Steven Pressfield’s words:
A concept is external. It frames the material and makes us look at every element of that material from a specific point of view.(…) The concept of The Sopranos is “Let’s take a gangster and send him to a shrink. When he whacks somebody, he feels guilty about it. We’ll show a crime boss suffering internally.”
A theme is internal. When we strip away all elements of plot, character and dialogue, what remains is theme. The [Soprano’s] theme is “All of us are crazy in the same way. A gangster’s inner turmoil is exactly the same as that of every other affluent suburbanite with a family and a job. The only difference is our protagonist regularly kills people.”
Movies start at the end. With the climax of the story. Then, after you’ve seen the climax, the story continues from the beginning. This happens usually between the first ten minutes in the first act. They try to hook you up with the climax and afterwards put the context of the story.
There’s always a hero and a villain. The hero fight enemies and find allies, going through a dangerous path. She has to if she wants to get what she wants. (And it’s usually something bigger than herself.)
The protagonist fits perfectly with the concept. She fulfills the story bringing her own character that matches with the concept of the story.
The villain thrives in the second act. After the first act the hero starts to set the fight with the villain, increasing the intensity until they have a clash and the fight is over. Then, after the climax there’s a resolution between them.
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After reading this post you won’t watch movies in the same way. You will start to analyze the structure of the story, identifying the different acts and how the tone is set. And since every story has a similar structure, you’ll become better at storytelling.
Even though a book is different than a movie—so is it talks, articles, and an investors pitch—in the end, everything is a story. And you can structure everything based on the list above. Therefore, when you follow that structure, you are helping your audience to understand you, because your making the effort of putting your materials into a format that every person can understand.
As I just said, everything is a story.
[If you want to dive a bit in storytelling I recommend you to read Steven Pressfield’s book]