Using Structure in Your Story: Guidelines for Picking a Structure

With 19 story structures talked about last blog post, there is not a shortage of ways to structure your story. Now the question is “Which one do you use?”. The answer: “It varies. In the time I have been telling stories, I have learned that there are few absolutes. So I’m not going to give you absolutes here for what story structure to use. Instead, I’ll give you some guidelines for picking a structure that would work best. 

Guidelines on picking a structure to use:

  1. The shorter story, the shorter the structure
  • Shorter oral stories are normally less than 10 mins
  • The shorter story structures tend to have fewer parts to remember. Since oral storytelling is done with no notes to read, simpler structure should be easier to use when delivering a story. 
  • The shorter story structures are great for stories used in teaching or a speech. These are places where you want to use a story, but have other content and needs to be delivered
  • Other places shorter story structures work well are story slams or comedic bits.
  • Using something like a 3 act structure or Freitag’s Triangle are examples of shorter structures
    • Side note, Sean Wellington runs a group on Facebook called GRIT. A few Sundays out of the month they do 99-sec stories. I have found this to be a GREAT way to practice using short story structures.  It will force you to keep only what is needed for the story.
  1. Longer story structures for longer oral stories
  • Stories around 30 mins or more allow for more detail to have in a story. Story structures such as Dan Harmans’ Story Circle or the Save the Cat structures allow for this added detail in an organized fashion. with more parts to hit.
  • Examples of places where longer story stories are told are one-person shows (fringe, plays, off-Broadway, etc.)
  1. Hero stories fit well in business settings
  • To be clear, s story showing a team or group of people making it through a situation work well for business as well.
  • Stories that show the main character making a mistake or having a flaw and having to overcome that can help the teller to be relatable and seem human.
  • One example of this would be the Hero’s Journey 
  1. Same thing, different way
  • If you have a story that you tell repeatedly, it may wear on you even if it’s new to others.
  • One way to keep it fresh is to try using a different structure than the one you are currently using.
  • All of the story structures listed in my last post work. Using a different one may bring out different elements for a new take.
    • Kind of like grilling chicken instead of cooking it in an oven. It’s still yummy, just has a different approach
  1. Newer people, simple structure
  • If you are new to telling stories, start off with the simpler structures. They will be easier to practice and master.
  • Moving to the longer, more evolved structures will be easier to tweak later.

These are guidelines that I encourage all of you to try or test. I’d love to know how it works for you, or if you have other suggestions for more guidelines for which structures are best to use when telling oral stories. I look forward to hearing how you tell your story on purpose.

Published by Nick Baskerville

After years of being an instructor in the military and the and the fire service, I realized I needed to improve my delivery. My students needed me to improve delivery. But how do I improve my delivery? Simple. I finally took a member of Toastmasters up on the invitation to come to a meeting. It wasn't long until I joined. Along the way of improving my skills at delivering a message, I came to understand that of all the ways to get a point across, telling stories is the best way to get it done. Around this time, another friend from Toastmasters told me about The Moth monthly story telling shows. What better way to test out my theories on storytelling. It's in my travels there to the shows that I found more and more shows, and classes, and events centered around storytelling. Despite how many people know about the storytelling world, not many people know about the storytelling world. So now, I'm out to tell the world about storytelling.

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