A five-time Moth GrandSLAM winner and bestselling novelist shows how to tell a great story — and why doing so matters. Whether we realize it or not, we are always telling stories. On a first date or job interview, at a sales presentation or therapy appointment, with family or friends, we are constantly narrating events and interpreting emotions and actions. In this compelling book, storyteller extraordinaire Matthew Dicks presents wonderfully straightforward and engaging tips and techniques for constructing, telling, and polishing stories that will hold the attention of your audience (no matter how big or small). He shows that anyone can learn to be an appealing storyteller, that everyone has something “storyworthy” to express, and, perhaps most important, that the act of creating and telling a tale is a powerful way of understanding and enhancing your own life.
|Publisher:||New World Library|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
My Promise to You
About a year ago, a man in one of my workshops asked, "Why am I here? I don't want to stand on stages and tell stories. I don't want to compete in story slams. I'm not an entertainer. I don't get it."
It was a good question, particularly because the man in question hadn't chosen my workshop. His wife had asked him to attend.
He wasn't the first person to attend a workshop for this reason. "My wife told me to take your workshop" is a surprisingly common reason given by men sitting before me in workshops.
Perhaps you're asking the same question. If you have no desire to stand on a stage and bare your soul, why learn to find and tell great stories?
Not that long ago, I was asking the same question. Two years into my storytelling career, Elysha and I founded that Hartford-based storytelling organization that I'd once talked about with friends. We call it Speak Up. Together we produce shows throughout New England to sellout audiences numbering as high as five hundred people.
About a year into Speak Up's existence, I started teaching storytelling too. But as with my journey to becoming a storyteller, my career as a teacher of storytelling began against my will. As our Speak Up audience grew and people wanted to learn to tell stories, they began asking me to teach them the craft.
I balked. I had no interest. But they were persistent. Many wanted to take a stage and tell a story. Others saw storytelling as a potential asset in their careers as attorneys, professors, salespeople, or therapists. Still others thought storytelling might help them to make friends and improve their relationships. Buckling under the weight of their pressure, I announced that I would teach one storytelling workshop.
One and done.
Ten people spent six evenings with me in a conference room at the local library. I taught them everything I knew about storytelling. I told stories and explained my process for crafting them. I listened to their stories and offered feedback.
As with storytelling itself, I quickly realized how much I enjoyed teaching the craft. Deconstructing the elements of a good story. Building a curriculum around what I knew and was still learning. Listening to stories and helping to find ways to shape them better. Turning my students into the kinds of people who can light up a room with a great story.
My "one and done" workshop has grown into something I do regularly and with zeal today. I travel the world teaching the art and craft of storytelling.
The people I teach are varied and diverse. I teach performers and would- be performers who want to become better storytellers. Some have never taken the stage before, and others are grizzled veterans looking to improve their skills. Many of these former students have gone on to take the stage at The Moth, Speak Up, and other storytelling shows. In August of 2016, one of my students beat me in a Moth GrandSLAM competition for the first time. I finished second, and she finished first. Perhaps I taught her a little too well.
I teach attorneys, salespeople, and business leaders who want to improve their presentation skills, sales pitches, and branding.
I teach novelists, essayists, screenwriters, television writers, poets, archivists, and other creative sorts who want to refine their understanding of story.
I teach professors, schoolteachers, ministers, priests, and rabbis who want to improve their lectures and sermons and hold the attention of their audiences.
I teach storytelling to people who want to improve their dating skills. I teach people who want to be more interesting at the dinner table. I teach grandfathers who want their grandchildren to finally listen to them. I teach students who want to tell better stories on their college applications. I teach job applicants who are looking to improve their interview skills. I teach people who want to learn more about themselves.
People have quit therapy and opted to participate in my storytelling workshops instead. While I don't endorse this decision, it's apparently working for them. Wives send their befuddled husbands to my workshops, hoping that storytelling will spark something inside them. Later they tell me how their husbands have opened up like never before. One woman told me that her husband has opened up "a little too much."
People take my workshops again and again to discover more about themselves and find ways to connect with other people through their own personal narratives. A married couple once spent their anniversary attending one of my all-day workshops because they knew it would be a chance to laugh together and learn about each other. They brought champagne.
I teach the children of Holocaust survivors who want to preserve the stories of their parents and grandparents. I teach psychiatrists and psychologists who want to help their patients reframe their lives through story. I teach politicians, labor organizers, health-care advocates, and educational reformers who need to change hearts and minds.
I promise that whatever you do, storytelling will help. While I am often standing on a stage and performing, there are few things I do in life that aren't aided by my ability to tell a story. Whether I'm teaching the metric system to my fifth graders, pitching Speak Up to a new venue, selling my DJ services to a prospective client, or making small talk at a professional development seminar, storytelling helps me achieve my goals. Storytelling makes me a better dinner companion. It compensates for my inability to hit a golf ball accurately. It makes me far more palatable to my in-laws.
No matter who you are or what you do, storytelling can help you achieve your goals. That is why you are reading this book. That is why that man was sitting in my workshop that day.
In these pages, you will find lessons on finding, crafting, and telling stories that will connect you to other people. Make them believe in and trust you. Compel them to want to know more about you and the things you care about.
You'll find specific examples of well-told stories. Exercises designed to locate meaningful, compelling stories in your life. Step-by-step instructions for crafting those stories.
I hope to entertain as well. As much as I want you to learn to become a storyteller, I can't help but tell some stories along the way. In addition to teaching you how to tell an effective, entertaining, and moving story, I hope to give you a peek into my life as a storyteller. My plan is to pull back the curtain and show you some of the highs and lows of my storytelling career. In short, I plan to tell you some stories.
I also want you to trust me. There's no codified curriculum when it comes to storytelling. No universally accepted laws or rules, no canonical absolutes. Storytelling is more art than science. It's an ancient form of communication and entertainment that has been practiced since humans first developed language, but the rise in the popularity of personal storytelling is relatively new. There are no official schools of thought. No hard-and-fast formulas.
But I tell my students this: If you apply my strategies and methods to the craft, you will become a highly successful storyteller. Not every storyteller agrees with my strategies, but every student who has followed my instruction has become an effective, entertaining, successful storyteller.
My instruction works. You too can be a great storyteller. It's time to learn how.CHAPTER 2
What Is a Story? (and What Is the Dinner Test?)
A couple years ago, a woman asked Elysha why she first fell in love with me. Fortunately I was standing right beside her when the question was asked.
I waited for Elysha to say something about my rugged good looks, quick wit, or enchanting eyes. "I thought it was this situation," I said, motioning up and down my body.
"It's never been this situation," Elysha informed me.
Instead she told the woman that it was storytelling that first made her fall for me. She told the story of the night when she and I went to Chili's for dinner — our first meal alone — before our school's talent show.
Just so we're clear: This was not a date. Maybe I wanted it to be a date, but at that time, I thought Elysha was out of my league. I still think this today. Please don't tell her.
Elysha and I were fellow teachers and slowly becoming friends, but we were both involved with other people at the time. We were technically unavailable. Also Chili's was one of the closest restaurants to our school.
My point: I didn't take Elysha on a first date to Chili's. I'm not that guy.
Elysha explained to the woman that over the course of our dinner, she had asked me some questions about myself. We'd known each other for a couple years by then, but we didn't know much about each other personally. When I'm asked a question, I tell a story, so I told some stories that night. I was still more than seven years away from taking a stage and telling my first official story, but even back then, I was always ready and willing to share my life with others, warts and all.
Elysha told the woman, "That was the night I started falling for Matt. Listening to his stories, I realized that he wasn't like anyone I had ever met before, and I knew I wanted to hear more. I liked the way he told a story."
Beautiful, right? I found the perfect spouse through storytelling.
Right after the beauty of the moment washed over me, I quickly shifted to annoyance. By then I had been performing onstage and teaching storytelling for a few years. I had made a name for myself in the storytelling world. I'd attracted interest from businesses, universities, nonprofits, and performers. Knowing all this, why had she waited until now to inform me that my storytelling had been the key to her heart?
I told her that the story about falling in love with me through storytelling fit perfectly into my personal narrative and explained how useful it could have been to me for the past couple years of teaching and performing. "You're telling me that I found the perfect wife through storytelling! That's like a baseball player hitting a home run into the right-field bleachers that's caught by the woman he eventually marries. It's amazing! How could you keep this from me?"
"I'm not in the business of helping you construct your personal narrative," she said.
She's lucky I love her. But you see my point, right? Even before I was telling stories onstage and thinking of myself as a storyteller, the ability to tell a good story was helping me immensely.
Let's also be clear that when I talk about storytelling, I am speaking about personal narrative. True stories told by the people who lived them. This is very different than the traditional fable or folktale that many people associate with the word storytelling. While folktales and fables are entertaining and can teach us about universal truths and important life lessons, there is power in personal storytelling that folktales and fables will never possess.
A folktale or a fable would never have convinced Elysha that I was the love of her life. My friends would not routinely invite me to play golf if I promised them a well-told folktale between swings. I would not be hired for a job by answering questions with folktales. Nonprofits, corporations, universities, and school districts would not be able to improve their image and messaging through fables. You can't become the life of the party by telling a good folktale.
Most importantly, folktales and fables do not create the same level of connection between storyteller and audience as a personal story. I have never listened to someone tell a folktale and felt more deeply connected to the storyteller as a result. I may have loved the story and admired the storyteller's skill and expertise, and I might have been highly entertained, but I have never felt that I knew the storyteller any better at the end of their story. The storyteller who tells folktales and fables is a highly developed, highly skilled delivery mechanism, often more entertaining than television, radio, or a YouTube video, but never revealing, vulnerable, or authentic.
Folktales and fables don't require vulnerability. They do not demand honesty and transparency from the storyteller. They can never be self- deprecating or revealing, because the story is not about the storyteller. They are entertaining, possibly educational, and often insightful, but they do not bring people closer together.
We tell stories to express our hardest, best, most authentic truths. This is what brings thousands of people to hear stories at theaters and bars every night in cities all over the world.
They want the real deal. They want the kind of stories that just might make them fall in love with the storyteller.
As we prepare to embark on this journey together, keep in mind that there are a few requirements to ensuring that you are telling a personal story:
Your story must reflect change over time. A story cannot simply be a series of remarkable events. You must start out as one version of yourself and end as something new. The change can be infinitesimal. It need not reflect an improvement in yourself or your character, but change must happen. Even the worst movies in the world reflect some change in a character over time.
So must your story. Stories that fail to reflect change over time are known as anecdotes. Romps. Drinking stories. Vacation stories. They recount humorous, harrowing, and even heartfelt moments from our lives that burned brightly but left no lasting mark on our souls.
There is nothing wrong with telling these stories, but don't expect to make someone fall in love with you in a Chili's restaurant by telling one of these stories. Don't expect people to change their opinions on an important matter or feel more connected to you through these stories. These are the roller-coasters and cotton candy of the storytelling world. Supremely fun and delicious, but ultimately forgettable.
Matt's Five Rules of Drinking Stories
1. No one will ever care about your drinking stories as much as you.
2. Drinking stories never impress the type of people who one wants to impress.
3. If you have more than three excellent drinking stories from your entire life, you are incorrect in your estimation of an excellent drinking story.
4. Even the best drinking stories are seriously compromised if told during the daytime and/or at the workplace.
5. A drinking story about a moment when you were over the age of forty is often sad, pathetic, and even tragic except under the following circumstances:
It is absolutely your best drinking story of all time.
The storyteller is over seventy. Drinking stories about the elderly are acceptable in any form, because they are rare and oftentimes hilarious.
Matt's Three Rules of Vacation Stories
1. No one wants to hear about your vacation.
2. If someone asks to hear about your vacation, they are being polite. See rule #1.
3. If you had a moment that was actually storyworthy while you were on vacation, that is a story that should be told. But it should not include the quality of the local cuisine or anything related to the beauty or charm of the destination.
Your Story Only
You must tell your own story and not the stories of others. People would rather hear the story about what happened to you last night than about what happened to your friend Pete last night, even if Pete's story is better than your own. There is immediacy and grit and inherent vulnerability in hearing the story of someone standing before you. It is visceral and real. It takes no courage to tell Pete's story. It requires no hard truth or authentic self.
This doesn't mean that you can't tell someone else's story. It simply means you must make the story about yourself. You must tell your side of the story.
Back in 1991, I was living with my best friend, Bengi, in an apartment in Attleboro, Massachusetts, that we called the Heavy Metal Playhouse. It was thanks to Bengi that I had a roof over my head. He was attending Bryant University but decided to live off campus during his sophomore year. I was graduating from high school at the time, and my parents expected me to move out and begin taking care of myself. But I had nowhere to go. I worried that I might become homeless.
While my classmates were counting down the remaining days of high school with great anticipation, I spent much of my senior year worried about where I would be living after the school year ended. Then salvation. On a warm spring evening, while Bengi and I were sitting in the cab of an idle bulldozer on the site of a future grocery store, he asked me if I wanted to live with him. I couldn't believe it. I was ecstatic.
There was only one problem: I knew that living with Bengi would be hard, because unlike anyone I had ever met, Bengi was a person who held on to grudges. Cross him in any way, and he did not forget. I suspect that it was the result of being an only child and not facing the constant adversity that comes with sibling rivalry. Growing up as the oldest of five, I was awful to my siblings. I made their lives miserable. I tricked my brother Jeremy into believing that the yellow bits in the Kibbles 'n Bits dog food were real cheese and convinced him to eat them fairly regularly. I constantly short-sheeted his bed. Sold his Star Wars action figures to raise cash. Locked him out of the house every other day. Jeremy had every reason to despise me.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Storyworthy"
Copyright © 2018 Matthew Dicks.
Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART ONE: FINDING YOUR STORY
Chapter 1: A Coward Tells a Story
Chapter 2: What Is a Story? (and What Is the Dinner Test?)
Chapter 3: Homework for Life
Chapter 4: Dreaming at the End of Your Pen
Chapter 5: First/Last/Best/Worst: Great for Long Car Rides, First Dates, and Finding Stories
PART TWO: CRAFTING YOUR STORY
Chapter 6: “Charity Thief”
Chapter 7: Every Story Only Takes Five Seconds to Tell (and Jurassic Park Wasn’t a Movie About Dinosaurs)
Chapter 8: Finding Your Beginning (I’m Also About to Ruin Most Movies and Many Books Forever for You)
Chapter 9: Stakes - Five Ways to Keep Your Story Compelling (and Why There Are Dinosaurs in Jurassic Park)
Chapter 10: The Five Permissible Lies of True Storytelling
Chapter 11: Cinema of the Mind (Also Known As “Where the Hell
Chapter 12: The Principle of But and Therefore
Chapter 13: “This Is Going to Suck”
Chapter 14: The Secret to the Big Story: Make it Little
Chapter 15: There Is Only Way to Make Someone Cry
Chapter 16: Milk Cans and Balls. Babies and Blenders: Simple, Effective Ways to be Funny in Storytelling (Even If You’re Not Funny at All)
Chapter 17: Finding the Frayed Ending of Your Story (Or… What the Hell Did That Mean?)
PART 3: TELLING YOUR STORY
Chapter 18: The Present Tense is King (But the Queen Can Play a Role, Too)
Chapter 19: If You Practice Storytelling or Public Speaking in a Mirror, Read This. If You Don’t, Skip It.
Chapter 20: The Two Ways of Telling a Hero Story (Or… How to Avoid Sounding Like a Douchebag)
Chapter 21:Storytelling Is Time Travel (If You Don’t Muck It Up)
Chapter 22: Words to Say. Words to Avoid.
Chapter 23: Time to Perform (On the Stage, in the Board Room, on a Date, or at the Thanksgiving Table)
Chapter 24: Why Did You Read This Book? To Become a Superhero.
What People are Saying About This
“With candor, humility, and bust-a-gut humor, Matthew Dicks shares his storytelling secrets and leads you up the stairs to tell yours. He already knows that they’re gems.” — Nichole Bernier, author of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. “Holy moly! Matthew Dicks is right — every one of us has a story to tell. And whether onstage or on the page, this master of the craft pulls us into his world, entertaining, instructing, and inspiring with every word.” — Susan Gregg Gilmore, author of Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen “Offers countless tips, exercises, and examples to get you on your way to better stories. Anyone who wants to take the stage, become a better writer, or simply tell better stories at Thanksgiving will benefit from Storyworthy.” — Jeff Vibes, filmmaker “I laughed, gasped, took notes, and carried this book around like a dear friend — because that’s exactly what a storyworthy book should be. As a novelist, I’ve studied my craft in countless ways, but never before have I seen its marrow revealed with such honest, approachable charisma. Matthew Dicks has written a perceptive companion for every person who has a story to tell — and don’t we all?” — Sarah McCoy, internationally and New York Times –bestselling author of Marilla of Green Gables and The Baker’s Daughter “Matthew Dicks is a master storyteller and an incredible teacher. Most importantly, he is an artist who paints his verbal canvases with moments that change how his listeners see the world. Matt taught me about the hidden arc and architecture that lie behind every well-told story and I’ve incorporated his techniques into innumerable courtroom presentations — and told several stories before live audiences — all thanks to Matt.” — Ron Apter, trial lawyer “When I gave Matthew Dicks a recurring spot on my podcast, I billed him as ‘the most interesting man in the world.’ He really has lived quite a life. But what’s truly interesting is not necessarily what he’s experienced but how he makes you, the audience, experience it through him.” — Mike Pesca, NPR contributor and host of Slate magazine’s daily podcast, The Gist “Learning from Matthew Dicks has truly been life changing both for me as a public storyteller and for my high school students. Matt’s practical advice and techniques can be applied immediately, and that’s what Matt encourages and inspires you to do. Start crafting your best stories right now: learn a little about yourself in the process and begin living a life of yes.” — Jennifer Bonaldo, English teacher, Amity High School, Bethany, Connecticut “Matthew Dicks is not only a master storyteller; he is a master teacher. His clear and detailed instructions allow him to brilliantly give his techniques and tricks of the storytelling trade to his students. I personally benefited immensely from Matt’s workshop, and I continue to use his techniques both in my professional work as a rabbi and teacher and onstage at Moth StorySLAMs.” — Rabbi Ira Ebbin, Congregation Ohav Sholom in Merrick, New York, and Moth StorySLAM winner “I had the opportunity to take Matthew Dicks’s workshop for beginners and then his advanced workshop. They were truly life changing. From Matt’s instructions, I have been able to sculpt true stories that I have shared with an audience of five hundred people. I am not a professional entertainer. But because of Matt’s insightful direction, editing, and support, I now have the confidence and ability to turn my life experiences into stories that entertain and impact many people. Thank you, Matt. One doesn’t always have the opportunity to live a dream.” — Lee Pollock, president, The Pollock Company, Hartford, Connecticut “In Storyworthy , Matthew Dicks gives us all the tools we’ll need to become an effective storyteller, and he does so with wit, wisdom, and self-effacing charm. What’s more, he reminds us that through storytelling — and our willingness to be honest and vulnerable when sharing the different moments that have helped shape our lives — we invite the great possibility of deeper connection with others, and with ourselves. This book serves as a guidebook and a muse, rooted in the belief that our individual stories, when shared with heart, end up walking us down the pathway to true belonging. Storyworthy acts as a bright light along that journey.” — Scott Stabile, author of Big Love: The Power of Living with a Wide-Open Heart “Matthew Dicks is dazzling as a storyteller and equally brilliant in his ability to deconstruct this skill and make it accessible to others. His workshop was a veritable epiphany — it has been formative in my own professional career and in helping shape the work of my students. Trust me: whatever Matt has to say about storytelling, you want to hear. In my role at Yale, I oversee courses that involve more than one hundred faculty members. I can say without a doubt that Matt is one of the finest teachers I’ve ever seen.” — David A. Ross, MD, PhD, director, Yale Psychiatry Residency Training Program