Thursday, December 18, 2014

How to Tell a Story: by Donald Miller

I am not sure if I'm allowed to do this, but I figure as long as I give Donald Miller all the credit for what I'm about to write I'll be okay. Following are notes (direct quotes) taken from his free ebook, How to Tell a Story. I thought for those of you that read this blog, that have any interest in being a writer, that it would be both interesting and beneficial. These are the highlights of his book, but I would recommend reading it in its entirety.

1. Those that can tell good stories will create faster, stronger connections with others.

2. (Paraphrased) A beer commercial that told a story such as a dog making friends with a horse got more traction that any commercial (during the Super Bowl) that involved scantily dressed women or humorous pranks.

3. Stories...instruct, provide rest, give us inspiration and help us learn empathy for others.

4. A story is a tool and in the wrong hands can devastate entire cultures. Find me an evil dictator...and I'll show you a leader an exceptional storyteller.

5. From Robert McKee: It's from a story we learn what to value in life, what's beautiful and what's banal, what to live for and what to die for.

6. ...but once the form (structure) is learned, a practiced storyteller can captivate an audience of thousands as though they were a few friends sitting around a campfire.

7. Best definition of story: a sense-making device

8. One reason people are drawn to stories is because within a story, life seems to be clear. Most people wake up every morning not quite sure what needs to be tackled first, what really matters in life, or what the stakes will be if they succeed or fail.

9. The human brain is drawn toward clarity and away from clutter.

10. The difference between music and noise, though, is form. Noise becomes music when it submits itself to certain rules. Harmonies and melodies and so forth are simply noise tamed.

11. A story is an organization of events so as to be told through set form. A series of random events becomes a story when it's organized and told through structured plot.

12. Good stories don't happen by accident. They are formed and molded and edited so they are clean and clutter free.

13. A character has a problem, then meets a guide who gives them a plan and calls them to action. That action either results in a comedy or a tragedy.
14. Good storytellers do not break the rules of a story.

15. A Character: the hero that takes a journey involving a task that is outside their comfort zone; is the center of the story that must take action; only one that must experience a character arc (a change brought on by the adventure of the story.

16. No story works unless the hero encounters a problem. The problem posits a series of questions that make the audience stick around to get the answer.

17. In a good story, there are often three-levels of problems: external (Luke must defeat the Evil Empire); internal (Does Luke really have what it takes to be a Jedi?); philosophical (Will good win over evil?)

18. Without an internal problem that the external problem manifests, you'll lose your audience.

19. Characters do not solve their own problems. If they could solve their own problems, they'd likely have never gotten into trouble in the first place.

20. ... the character meets somebody, reads something...or experiences something that helps them grow. That the guide (Think: Yoda or Obi-Wan)

21. The guide's first job: listen, understand and empathize

22. The guide's second job: to give the hero a plan. They break through the hero's confusion and give them confidence. After hearing the plan, the character must decide whether to take action.

23. In a story, the call to action is a point of crisis. It's often a dark night of the soul for the hero.

24. The guide is the strongest, most steady character in the story.

25. Either a comedy or a tragedy. We must know if the guy will get the girl or if the bomb will be disarmed. Often the guide will state the happy ending well before it happens.

26. Every audience must have a clear idea of what possible tragedy faces the hero if they don't act on the plan...if they don't know, they lose interest.

*Every single word written above was written by Donald Miller in his ebook How to Write a Story. I mainly wrote these 26 things for selfish reasons because I find I retain information much more easily if I write it out.

The link for this ebook is:

The link for his blog is:

Tell him Ryan Graybill sent you...he will have no idea what that means or who 
that is, but it never hurts to plant a seed.

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