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  • Tim Hartman

How to tell a story

There is nothing better in this world than engaging an audience with a good story. It’s the one job in my life I feel totally confident about doing. Folks always want to know how to be a good storyteller. I wish I had a simple formula for people to follow. But telling a good story is more about an “attitude”. You have to be willing to imagine yourself in your character’s situation. You have to see yourself tasting, smelling, touching and feeling what your characters feel. If you can imagine yourself in your character’s situation and can put that into words, you’ve gone a long way to being a good storyteller.

That’s not always an easy thing to do. It takes an extremely active imagination and it takes empathy.

Stories are best communicated if we, as the audience, feel a common ground with what is being portrayed; Oh, I’ve been in a situation just like that! Or, I know exactly what that feels like! Or, I would react just the same way as that character! Good storytelling comes from the communication of common experience in extraordinary circumstances. To portray any of that we must be willing to empathize with people in all areas of human experience…. and that can be painful. I didn’t like America’s Favorite Home Videos for that very reason. I imagine, very easily, how that whiffle bat to the head must have felt. In the same way, I have trouble with news items that deal with the suffering of children. I always see, in my mind’s eye the point of view of the victim. Stories, like the loss of the little boy in the Boston bombing, leave me breathless and weary.

Now, don’t think for a minute that I think I’m special for being SO sensitive. Sometimes I think we believe that we are actually doing something for people when we ‘feel their pain’. The point of empathy is that it should point us in the direction of some kind of action. If you feel it, but don’t do anything about it, then what good are you?

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