Transformative Storytelling: An Improvisational Approach To Developing Stories That Educate, Motivate and Inspire Workshop Handout
|Workshop designed and facilitated by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, CGP. MT|
On the intersection of improv - where we do not know what is going to happen and can only experience/create by giving up the need to know - and storytelling, where we know what has happened and seek to find meaning in it:
"Life can only be understood backward, but must be lived forward." Soren Kierkagaard
Well-crafted stories can frame and explain important concepts as well as engage listeners in ways that add color, imagination and emotional significance to important information and in this way make the content memorable and meaningful. "The story is actually just a delivery system for the teller’s agenda," writes Jonathan Gotschall in Why Storytelling Is The Ultimate Weapon. "A story is a trick for sneaking a message into the fortified citadel of the human mind. Research shows that our attitudes, values, hopes and fears are strongly influenced by story...The more absorbed readers are in a story, the more the story changes them."
"Stories frame and even construct social experience," writes the NeuroHumanities Research Group, a collaboration between neuroscientists at Princeton and Duke Universities. Their work - specifically research led by Dr. Uri Hasson of Princeton University produced scientific evidence for the appeal of stories but more importantly for their social, emotional and psychological impact. Through neuroimaging, researchers found a "synching up" between the brains of listeners and storytellers when there is deep engagement in the story. The neuroimaging allows them to "see" cognitive reception of the story. According to this evidence, the effect occurs only when communication is achieved. If the story is not engaging the listener - as when there is a barrier to communication, or the story does not emotionally connect to the listener - this effect is lost. When a story "lands" on a listener and has genuine impact, it can motivate and inspire without any prompting by the storyteller. According to Dr. Hasson, "a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience."
Research into the science of storytelling and the brain One would think that because stories are expressed through language that they engage the parts of the brain that process it, but neuroscience shows us something more. Research published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience showed that when the brain hears an action word, it responds as if the listener is engaged in that action. So when a storyteller says “I waltz to the door,” the motor cortex lights up. “I straighten the collar of my velvety silk blouse” ignites the sensory cortex. “My heart races with a mix of wild excitement and anxiety as I open the door” triggers these emotions in the listener.
When a storyteller steps into the character of raging father, reassuring mother, high school crush, or any of the other characters that populate a story, the listener can experience the rush of fear an abused child endures, but from the safety of an observer’s role. When the brain experiences rich imagery and emotionally compelling moments the story has the greatest impact and is more likely to be remembered. (from my article "When Stories Kill: Its The Brain Science That Did It" on medium.com)
- Sensory details;
- Emotional details and energy;
- Story structure;
- Narrative sections mixed with in-the-moment scenes;
Experience trying to share from one's own thoughts and experience without editing;
Experience being heard;
Experience active listening to another person;
Practice infusing a monologue with sensory details;
Collaborate on a simple creative process with a partner;
Set-Up: What is the main character's situation or perspective with regard to this story. Set a story with important details that place the main character in a time, place and emotional state. Use sensory and emotional details to bring the audience into that emotional and physical space as much as possible.
Inciting Incident: something happens that impacts the main character's situation or perspective, and he/she must respond. A game-changing moment, an upset to the status quo, an unexpected turn of events. Bring immediacy - using imagery and sensory details to this part of the story as much as possible.
Rising Action: as a result of the inciting incident, the main character makes some choices, which have consequences, and impact the main character.
Climax: The rising action leads to a turning point - the emotional tension rises to a heightened intensity, possibly a breakthrough moment, a low point that forces a redirection or a high point that lights the way.
Transformation: Where this emotional journey takes the main character. What is changed as a result of having gone through this process? A shift in perspective, a letting go of an old role or belief, taking up a new approach or behavior.
- Communicate a vision. Use vision stories to empower listeners to connect with a larger reality than their own, to imagine a different kind of future for themselves.
- Success – should emphasize the obstacles, the adversity, the reason that this success was, at one time, unlikely or unforeseeable;
- Failures – emphasizes the "want," the dream and the journey toward a goal, what inspired and went into achieving it, and the obstacles, mistakes, or adversity that blocked it. Failure stories are about lessons learned, revelations that come through tough experiences, and resilience.
- Transcendent – something that is beyond normal experience, e.g. stories about important life-changing figures like Nelson Mandela or Harriet Tubman, what it takes to climb Mt. Everest, surviving a trauma;
- Reward – if you do this, you will get that
- Fear – if you do this, you can avoid a bad thing that will otherwise happen
- Competency – achievement – if you do this
- Recognition – getting it or not getting it and carrying on
- Desire to grow
- Power – ways to gain influence and greater control over events
- Social factors – desire to contribute to the lives of others, desire to make a difference