Hi, there! Welcome to the final installment of the #storytellingshift series. In this series, I teach fellow writers how to become storytellers, starting with the key to unlocking endless inspiration. If you’re feeling a bit lost and are wondering what the difference is between a writer and a storyteller, jump back to the beginning of the series, where I define the difference for you.
- 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
As the #StorytellingShift series comes to a close, it’s time to wrap up everything we’ve learned about why writing in and engaging with new mediums is so beneficial by putting that into action.
While there are TONS of different ways to do this, something I really dig deep into in Swiss Army Storytelling, I’ve tapped into my favorite ways to use different mediums you’ve read, watched, or played, in your own stories no matter the medium you’re writing in.
Even if you’re not yet ready to jump into writing your first full-length play or video game quest, you can still learn SO much just from watching plays or playing video games or doing anything else with a story! And what makes this strategy so great – using other mediums to enhance your story – is that it requires no extra writing on your part. All you have to do is take a break from your current work in progress, sit back and enjoy a new story. You’re still learning how to improve your narrative, but you’re looking at things in a new way with zero commitment to a new medium or project and all with little to no extra work.
Doesn’t that just make you so excited? I love anything that means I can take a break to just sit back and get lost in a story.
Depending on what type of story you’ve written will depend on what section of this post helps you the most. While each section still is helpful no matter what medium you’ve written, I recommend starting with the medium of your current work-in-progress before branching out to using other sections.
If you’re writing fiction or prose…
- Use movies to find the core of your story. Whether you’re writing a script or just watching a movie, films are perhaps the best way to learn more about what makes a story so good. Why is that? Because films are short and compact compared to novels, so they have to pack in as much of the best and essential stuff as possible, cutting out any fluff or distracting narratives. While the novelist in you might be saddened by this, remember that you’re using the film format to understand the true core of your story. That doesn’t mean cutting out those side characters or lengthy inner monologs, but just using a film you think demonstrates a similar plot or theme as your own to help understand the core strength of your novel.
- Use theater to understand your characters better. The theater is all about people! It’s performed by people who often have nothing else besides their own bodies to tell a story with and it’s observed by people just like them! Because of this, if you want to really understand characters better without writing a thirty-page chapter in first-person, theater and drama offer a lot of resources for anyone needing to understand their characters deeply without all the bells and whistles.
- Use video games to explore options for different parts without wasting your time. Oftentimes as novelists, we’ll have a TON of ideas about where to take our story. It’s easy to do when you have about 350 pages worth of content and so many different ways to wrap your story up! That’s why playing a video game or even writing a small portion of your novel as a video game script is a great way to juggle different solutions and possibilities in a narrative without wasting HOURS and HOURS of your time writing the ending to a chapter six different ways. Even if doing this exercise feels like too much work, taking your mind to a place of possibility with games like the Stanley Parable can help you brainstorm the best way to end your story or chapter.
If you’re writing a screenplay…
- Use prose to dig deeper into scenes and explore character perspectives. The best way to do this is by using first-person narration and writing a short story dictated by one of your characters in your film. This was a typical exercise we did in film school and it helped us really know the inner psyches of our characters, something that is hard to grasp when you’re writing a script that doesn’t allow for internal exploration on the page. If you don’t have time for this, just picking up a book or short story that you feel is similar to your screenplay and making notes of the internal lives of the characters can also shorten the distance we screenwriters may feel from our characters.
- Use theater to loosen up on the formula. If you find that you’re getting bogged down by the rules and regulations of your script or are too caught up in the formulaic three-act structure, watching a play or writing a ten-minute one over the weekend can help you shake out that screenwriting trap we can all fall into. In watching a play, you’ll learn about how a slow story with lengthy scenes is just as impactful as a tight screenplay. This will help you relax your script and let it breathe so that it doesn’t feel like it’s the product of a machine.
- Use video games to try out different conversations. Since the video game format and the screenwriting format can often look so familiar, if you want to test out a few different ways a conversation can go and still lead to the same resolution, using branching dialogues from video game writing will help you see different ways for your characters to engage with one another in a simple chart that lays all the possibilities out for you. If that seems like too much work, playing a game from a company like Telltale will show you how a scene can follow the same narrative but have different tonal feelings depending on your dialogue choices.
Don’t forget to grab your cheatsheet + workbook guiding you through the process!
If you’re writing a play…
- Use prose to emphasize your set design and other descriptions. On paper, prose writing and playwriting bear a lot of similarities because they both allow you to write without formatting guidelines. If you want to add more in-depth descriptions to your set design and even dialogue, there’s no better medium to tap into than prose. Reading your favorite book or a new short story will show you ways to explain things in a more artistic way so that future directors and actors can interpret your play in an equally creative way. If you want to dig deeper, writing a few tiny stories or a short story can help you practice how to use the language of prose even further to your advantage.
- Use screenwriting to get your mind away from the stage and on to new locations. The stage is what makes theater so unique, but it also is a huge constraint to the medium. A lot of playwrights have based an entire story in one location as a result and that has led to a lot of creative and innovative approaches to storytelling. But sometimes that gets exhausting. So, if you want to think about your story without these constraints, look to your favorite film or one that explores similar themes as your story and observe all the different locations at their disposal and consider how you can steal some of that location-shifting in your own story.
- Use video games to think about the audience. The relationship between the player and the character in the video game world is in many ways a lot like the theater’s relationship to the audience. Both mediums exist on a dialogue and direct communication between the audience or player and the story, so playing a video game and understanding how as a player you’re both the audience and part of the story can help you understand how to better use the audience in your play as well. Consider how video games make players feel they’re telling the story and see how you can use that in your play!
If you’re writing a video game quest…
- Use prose to enhance in-game reading materials like letters or diaries. Video games are filled with ALL types of storytelling mediums, but prose is the most obvious of them all. As a result, writing in prose is almost unavoidable. Have a secret love letter in a hidden ruin? You’ve got to pen that with some pretty prose. You’ve got a diary detailing everything your characters need to know to solve the riddle? Sorry, that’s also prose! However, if maybe writing this prose is a bit ahead of the game for you right now, you can also read some prose to see how authors tell expansive and lengthy stories while still keeping people’s attention on the core conflict and plot, a huge trait about video game writing that can give the narrative some trouble.
- Use screenwriting to draft your first plotline before adding branching options. Writing a quest with branching dialogue and various outcomes is incredibly overwhelming. As as result, the best way to approach a video game quest or script with this much possibility is to crank out one version of the story without any “options” or “branches” yet. The best way to do this is in a screenwriting program where you can remain focused on one narrative at a time while still taking notes. But as recommended for every other medium, if you don’t have the time for this, then watching a movie can help you develop a solid foundation for your quest’s core narrative to branch off from.
- Use playwriting to improve your dialogue. As indicated, branching dialogue is a huge feature of many video games, so understanding what makes good dialogue will help you provide players with choices that all sound like things people would actually say. Because theater requires that a narrative be mostly conveyed via dialogue, it’s a great place to study the dialogue for your video game quest. Additionally, writing out a quick two-page play is super quick and easy, giving you a great way to quickly visualize and compare how different dialogue options will look, side-by-side. However, even just seeing or reading a play can help you fine tune your dialogue even more!
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Feeling lost? Check out the previous post on how to determine your story’s strengths so you’ll know exactly what areas need enhancing!