September 19, 2011

Storytelling Structure – Inspirational Storytelling

The script of your story is your foundation. Without a script, you are hoping to get lucky every time you tell your story. Sometimes you’ll nail it and the story will be great. At other times, your brilliance will desert you. You’ll go out of sequence, forget important details and mess up the point. Or worse, you won’t have a point.


The Script Shall Set You Free

If you want to be considered an excellent storyteller, or if you desire to become a professional speaker, “The Script Shall Set You Free.”

I learned this lesson many years ago when I was an actor. I played the characters, George, in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Danny Zuko, in GREASE.  My favorite playwright, however, was William Shakespeare. When I was 30, I got to play my dream role: Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When you perform in a play as brilliantly written as that one is, and you hear the audience laugh at the same places night after night, you learn to appreciate good writing.

Acting in great plays taught me that there are certain combinations of words, in specific sequences, that work better than other words in other sequences. I also saw how the construction of the story, the sequence of scenes and the addition or deletion of specific elements, made a huge difference in whether the story flowed or stumbled forward.

The actor’s first job is to memorize his or her lines – the script. Next, they have to move beyond memorization to interpretation – to make the script conversational and real. Finally, the actor adds the emotional layers. As an actor, once you have your lines down to the point that they become yours, you truly are free. But it all starts with the script.

When you write out your story, you’re forced to make lots of choices: what goes in, what stays out. The process of writing forces you to remember details. It makes you think about the sequence and flow of the narrative. I find that when I’m crafting a story using The Nine Steps of Story Structure, I discover gaps in the sequence that have to be filled in.


Make the Move from Good to Great

Writing enables you to make the move from good to great. And, as I stated before, it gives you a foundation to build on. If you don’t have a script, you won’t have anything to polish and improve over time.

I’m not saying that you have to write out your entire speech, word for word. I certainly don’t do that. You want to leave room for spontaneity. You need to speak from your heart to what moves you in the moment. Also, you want to leave room to customize in the moment and to piggyback on something that was said in an earlier session. My keynote speeches and workshops are meticulously designed ahead of time, but there is ample room to be creative in the moment.

My signature stories – the ones I’ve become known for and that I perform many times each year – are scripted and memorized. They are mini-plays – eight to twelve minute pieces of theater…Story Theater.

Write Conversationally


The process of scripting a story that is meant to be spoken is radically different than scripting one that is meant to be read. We have all been taught how to write a term paper. Most of us have never been schooled in conversational scripting. Screenwriters and playwrights know how to do it, but for the rest of us, proper punctuation and sentence structure is what we know.

Consider these two scripts:

Version 1.

It was autumn in New England. The trees were starting to turn, and radiant hues of red, orange and green filled the hillsides. The air was crisp and clean. Joan was driving and I was in the passenger seat. The country highway wound its way through the countryside like a ribbon of black in a sea of color. I pushed “play” and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons became the background music for our weekend escape.

Version 2.

It was autumn in New England. We decided to take a drive in the country so we hopped in the car and headed out. Joan was driving and I was riding shotgun taking in the colors and letting the cool breeze blast in my face. It was incredible. I popped in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and we just cruised and cruised until sundown.

There’s nothing wrong with version one until you try to speak it out loud. Go ahead. Try it. Most of it sounds fine. A few sentences however are too literary, too much like the language in a novel. In other words, version one makes great reading, but not great conversation.

Version two is more conversational and casual. The idea is to capture the way YOU speak when you’re just talking to a friend. If version two sounds like Doug Stevenson is speaking, rather than you, adopt the concept and write your own language.

Talk Onto Paper

I call the process of writing conversationally, talking onto paper. Talk and transcribe. Write a first draft without any editing, proper punctuation or fancy adjectives. Simply tell your story out loud and transcribe what you are saying…without editing it. Keep the sentence structure fluid.

Script your entire story in a stream of consciousness flow. Try to keep moving forward rather than stopping and starting. You can, however, go back to add details as you recall them, but make sure you are adding, not subtracting. Let the story flow forward as you remember it. Remember, you are simply creating a FIRST DRAFT.

This process was hard for me at first because I wanted to clean up my script and make it sound better. I wanted to sound more educated and cultured and not have so many incomplete and run-on sentences. The problem was that when I tried to clean it up, it no longer sounded like me.

After you have the first draft of the story scripted, according to The Nine Steps of Story Structure, go back and read through it again. Create a SECOND DRAFT by editing the content.  Ask yourself, “What needs to stay in the story? What needs to be deleted because it isn’t required to lead to the point?  What needs to be added so my audience gets the full picture?” Remember, this is not a grammar edit. If you keep editing grammar and punctuation, you’ll never get the gist of the story. You want to capture the essence of the experience, and it doesn’t have to be grammatically correct!

During this process, allow yourself to remember thoughts and feelings. Make it visual. Make it sensory.

Are you ready to blow people away with an amazing story? Are you disciplined enough to write, rehearse and memorize? Remember…the script shall set you free. Write it!


Doug Stevenson, president of Story Theater International, is a storytelling in business expert. He is the creator of The Story Theater Method and the author of the book, Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Method.

Follow Doug on Twiter@DougStoryCoach

His speaking, training and executive coaching clients include Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Lockheed Martin, Oracle, Bristol Myers Squibb, Amgen, Volkswagen, Century 21, The Department of Defense, The National Education Association and many more.

His 10 CD – How to Write and Deliver a Dynamite Speech audio learning system is a workshop in a box. It contains an 80-page follow along workbook.

Doug can be reached at 1-800-573-6196 or 1-719-573-6195. Learn more about the Story Theater Method, purchase the book or Story Theater audio six pack, and sign-up for the free Story Theater newsletter at:


Leave a Comment