In this four-week series, #StorytellingShift, I’ll be guiding you through the process of redefining how you perceive what it means to be a storyteller and how to change the way you approach future ideas so that you’re never short of inspiration and new approaches to a project. Below you’ll find a brief outline detailing everything you’ll learn throughout the next four posts:
- The Key to Unlocking Endless Storytelling Inspiration
- Ten Tools to Help Change How You Think About Storytelling
- How to Assess Your Story’s Strengths
- How to Use Different Storytelling Mediums to Enhance Your Project
What is #TheStorytellingShift?
#StorytellingShift is a change in perspective all writers who want to become storytellers eventually go through. It is the change a writer makes when they stop calling themselves a “screenwriter” or an “author” and come to understand that they are so much more than that – they’re a writer who has inherently learned how to tell stories, an ability they come to understand is flexible and not limited to a certain way of writing.
I underwent this shift in college when I decided to become a double major. I was already a film major and decided I would supplement this degree with an English one. I figured it would be the ultimate storytelling package as an undergraduate student and I loved how polar opposite my two degrees felt. In my English classes, we read a book a week, sat in circles to discuss stories, were never allowed to used phones, and wrote on chalkboards. By contrast, my film degree couldn’t be more different. In those classes, we all sat on laptops, streamed projects and inspirations in seconds from our computers, and went completely paperless to save the environment.
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But this dual-degree was just the beginning. Later, I decided to take a video game writing course and a playwriting course to add to my creative writing certificate. I was immediately struck by how different these storytelling worlds felt to me, but even more so I was so surprised how different my perspective was a screenwriter and prose writer. My approach to video game writing was filled with references to literature and my plays were obsessed with the audience, something I’d never dealt with so directly before. Pretty soon I became addicted to writing in different mediums. I had a list of plays, films, books and video games I wanted to write and went from having no ideas as a writer to far too many.
Needless to say, I was addicted to the way my storytelling changed.
And now I want to help you go through the same shift.
The Key to Unlocking Endless Storytelling Inspiration
As a writer, there are often times when we are completely short for ideas. If we’re lucky, these moments occur while we are in the middle of a project and not while we are looking for a story to tell, but more often than not, we aren’t so lucky and so we sit around waiting for inspiration to strike us.
Sometimes we might turn to storytelling prompts to inspire us, though these prompts usually do more to develop our craft and less to generate ideas, though the occasional genius idea may emerge from time to time. Regardless, I’m sure that most writers, if given the option, would much rather feel a constant stream of inspiration coming their way than being forced to desperately seek it out whenever we are feeling low or uncreative, which if we’re being honest with ourselves is a feeling all writers are all too familiar with.
So how does one command the storytelling muses to always head their way?
One of the most obvious ways to ensure inspiration is always relatively nearby is to constantly be telling stories. Working at the craft every single day begets more and more ideas because your subconscious is regularly reminded of your stories. But what if you’re not working on anything because you’re short on ideas? Or what if your project hit a major roadblock and you don’t know where to go next? Often powering through a writer’s block without inspiration or guidance can be more damaging than it’s worth, and the darkness of being lost in idea limbo can be frightening and emotionally tolling, making us storytellers feel as if we are worthless for never being able to generate new ideas.
So if we’re not writing or if we’re dealing with a road block in our writing process, where else can we seek out inspiration, the type of inspiration that never ends and is always spouting out more?
In other stories, of course.
But not just stories that remind us of our work. In fact, by contrast, if you want to unlock endless amounts of inspiration as a writer, you’re first going to have to take the plunge and start calling yourself a storyteller. You’re going to have undergo #TheStorytellingShift.
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In order to undergo this shift, you’ll have to first let go of some premonitions or misconceptions. Some of these misconceptions include ideas like, “watching TV is a waste of time” and “I don’t have the skills to play video games.” But other lies you need to stop telling yourself include the lie that “you don’t have the talent to write prose” or that you “can’t think like a screenwriter.”
Letting go of these lies you’ve told yourself over time isn’t easy, though, which is why I created The Storytelling System ebook to help you work through your #StorytellingShift. Using this Storytelling System ebook, you’ll be trained into thinking like a storyteller, always analyzing other works for what you can learn and always diversifying your storytelling palate. But furthermore, you’ll also start acquiring a whole new wealth of inspiration.
How is that, you ask?
If you remember from my anecdote at the beginning, I used to only be a prose writer, and then I focused on screenwriting. But before I was either of those things, I was a reader of books, a watcher of movies, and a player of video games. I was obsessed with stories and all the different ways to consume them, I just wasn’t aware that I could learn things about writing from a video game the way I could about a book. I had this vague idea that being a writer only meant writing beautiful prose. I wanted the world to remember my name and my life as a prestigious author.
But then I was introduced to these new ways of storytelling, taking them equally as seriously, and I realized that what mattered to me was that my story was great and that I was proud of it. After I shook off the ego within me that told me my name as a storyteller was the most important thing as a writer and finally understood that telling a great story was more important, finding inspiration never became a problem again.
Sure, I had writers’ block from time to time, trouble with a story, but I never again was lacking in sources of inspiration because I was taking video games as seriously as Shakespeare. And so should you!
Within the Storytelling System ebook provided in this series, you’ll find a guide to each storytelling medium and what makes it so special, with examples to help you further understand. This will provide the first stepping stones to help you undergo your #StorytellingShift. As you begin to undergo the process of becoming a storyteller, you’ll begin to see the story in everything, and I mean everything, but you’ll also start to study different mediums in a new way.
This, in turn, will help you unlock the key to endless inspiration. Not only will you have an infinite amount of extra stories to draw inspiration from, but you’ll begin to apply a narrative choice in a film to your current novel. You’ll start writing a play and think back to your favorite quest in a video game and wonder how you can implement this into your story. You’ll be writing your novel and incorporate the color themes from your favorite TV series.
Essentially, you’ll change completely as a storyteller and in a way that makes finding inspiration incredibly easy.
As a result, you’ll always have a story to work on. This, in turn, will keep your subconscious regularly in tune with the storytelling world, but the different mediums will also constantly be challenging you. Think of it like a workout, where if you workout the same muscle the same way for too long, you stop seeing change happen and things will plateau. Then when you do a different workout, exercising the same muscle but in a different way, you start to see results again and become reinspired, believing once more in your progress because mixing things up means you’re always seeing results.
You’re still workout out your body, you’re just challenging yourself to be better. With the #StorytellingShift, you’re still working out your storytelling abilities, you’re just exercising your muscle in a new way that yields better and faster results, constantly inspires, all the while keeping you focused on your craft.
Steps to Getting Started
With all this new wisdom to take in – and potentially the overwhelmingly new but exciting way of thinking you’re undergoing – you might be unsure as to how to get started unlocking all this inspiration. To make this transition even easier for you’ve – that’s why I’m here, after all, to save you all the time and effort it takes to seek this out on your own – I’ve listed five steps to unlocking this endless, inspiration, right now. But, don’t forget to get your copy of the Storytelling System ebook to supplement these steps!
STEP ONE: Make a list of all your inner biases towards certain storytelling mediums.
If you think video games are a waste of time or that plays are cheesy, say it. It’s better to get these biases out on the page so you can understand what is holding you back from exploring other storytelling mediums. If you find that you don’t have any biases, then you must ask yourself why, until now, you’ve refused to explore new mediums. Is it because you’re like I once was, and are obsessed with being the sole author of your work? Or is it because you just can’t imagine writing anything else? (If this is truly what you believe, might I remind you that you are a writer, whose sole purpose is to tap into their imagination.) Or is it because you’re just comfortable writing in a certain medium and don’t want to branch out for fear of being bad? Whatever it is, try and dig deep into understanding why you aren’t willing to try out new mediums, or if you are willing, what has stopped you up until this point.
STEP TWO: Find a story in the medium you have the least experience with, and go experience it!
This could be the medium you are the most biased towards, or it could be one you’ve yet to dive into just out of negligence. Either way, take some time to go read a play, watch a mini series, or play an indie game – do whatever it is you don’t usually do and let yourself enjoy it. Take note of the things that you find interesting or unique as you go, but overall try to immerse yourself in the story as best you can. If you’re in need of a starting point, check out my newbie recommendations for fellow storytellers, my storytelling gift guide, or my list of video games for the anti-gamer. All of these recommendations provide great insight into the different medium’s strengths, so you know you’ll have a source of inspiration right away.
STEP THREE: Write down what surprised you about this medium, what you can take from it and what it can give you.
With your fresh perspective, what did experiencing this medium feel like to you? What are some traits you can take away from this storytelling experience that you can apply to your current work in progress or previous stories? Write all this down so that when you are one day more comfortable with this medium you can remember what it was like when you were less familiar, but also write this down to help you connect directly how this story can inspire your work. For instance, after joining my video game class, I spent a lot of time wondering how I could tell a non-linear story in a video game the way novelists do. This led to me creating a really innovative story that pushed the video game writing medium to a new place. But this might not have happened if I hadn’t sat down and assessed what prose had given me and what I could take from video game writing, namely, the open world.
STEP FOUR: Write a list of ways you can incorporate this new storytelling medium into your old work.
Once you’ve assessed what you can give to and take from a medium, it’s time to brainstorm ways to apply it to other mediums. This part is where the inspiration really begins to reveal itself. If you aren’t already thinking of new ways to tell your story and use the tools from this new medium to make your story stand out, use my sixteen storytelling prompts to get your mind thinking like a storyteller. As you do this more and more, the inspiration will come more naturally, especially once you’ve worked through the Storytelling System ebook. Until then, keep asking yourself how you can utilize other mediums to enhance your story. Slowly but surely, the waves of inspiration will begin to arrive until they’re so fast you can hardly keep up.
STEP FIVE: Put it into practice
The most obvious step is to put what you’ve learned into practice. This can be by adding your new influences from other storytelling mediums into your current work in progress, or it can be completing repurposing an old story you’ve abandoned for a new medium. However you choose to start practicing using the tools of the new medium you’ve learned about, you must keep it up via both storytelling and story consuming. At first, this might seem like a lot of labor to keep track of, but over time it becomes intuitive and natural. In fact, if you’re binging on Netflix while you also juggle reading Dickens, you’re already doing half the work. Keep track of the stories you consume with my syllabus and take note of the ways they tell stories differently.
Before you know it, you’ll be undergoing the #StorytellingShift and on track for a lifetime filled with storytelling inspirations.
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Have you begun thinking like a storyteller? Tell me below how your journey from writer to storyteller is going and what new mediums you are engaging with.