Three things my six-year-old shows us about great writing and collaborative storytelling

Debby Elovsson  2014-03-14

For my 40thbirthday last year, my son gave me a book he’d written. It had a cover on which he’d written down the story’s title and had drawn a cover picture, and it was filled with several empty pages that he’d taped together. The idea was that we would write the story together.

While there were so many things about this gift that were great, I want to focus on the aspects of my son’s genius that demonstrated three proven storytelling tips:

1)      Write your headline first. That’s what my son did. He had an idea, and he wrote it down. I give him plus points for including a relevant picture to illustrate his idea. This should be everybody’s starting point. Take your story idea and write your title or headline first.
Pro tip: Because your headline is essential to the success of your masterpiece, be prepared to go back to it and rewrite it to ensure it’s still on target. Even better, write several draft headlines. Try for ten, and if you’re feeling ambitious go for fifty. Then pick the one that stands out.

2)      Know your audience. Check! My son knew the story was for me. And that’s what you need to do with your story – identify your audience. Once you know who the story is for, you can be personal, convey emotion, and find a strong voice with a distinct personality that speaks directly to a specific person.

3)      Gather information and facts related to the story including scenes and characters that will grab your audience’s interest. For my son’s story, my interest was captured when we sat down with our pens and pencils and talked about where the story would take place, with whom, and what would happen along the way. He drew the pictures and told the story with all the drama and plot points he could come up with. And I helped him write it all down, fascinated by the progression of the story and where it was headed. You too need to figure out which details will capture your audience’s interest.  Be compelling and ask yourself what will make your reader think, “and then what happened?”  Your story should contain action that progresses over time with some kind of destination or purpose.

Remember, not everybody can write and even fewer can write a good story well.  What everybody does have is a story to tell, and sometimes all we need is a good writer to help us tell it. Think about that for a moment. You don’t have to write your story alone. There’s power and beauty in writing a story together, collaborative storytelling.

Case in point, I was picking up my son the other day when my attention was directed to a storybook he and some classmates had created. Each child had a page of the book to write and illustrate. The result was beyond impressive – it was downright inspired. There was plot, setting, characters, point of view, atmosphere and conflict (the story was about a boy and girl who were out on a picnic in the woods when they got lost and chased by a dinosaur). Now imagine putting your own storytelling efforts through similar exercises and what that could yield. Your content marketing and content strategy will thank you. If you want even more storytelling tips, check these out:

22 Storytelling Tips For Writers From A Pixar Storyboard Artist

Timeless Advice on Writing from Famous Authors

Debby Elovsson

Debby Elovsson is group manager for writers, social media experts and subeditors as well as account director for various customer accounts. She has a broad background in content planning and content production since 1996. Previous experience includes roles as internal communication manager, PR-responsible, editor, copywriter, writer, subeditor and webmaster.

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