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Great storytelling is more than a sensational event

To craft a truly great story requires craftsmanship and skill. Unfortunately, many storytellers rely on sensational events or scenes to grab a reader or listener’s interest.

Kevin Hartnett, a staff writer for The Millions, wrote about storytelling in a post, “A Night at The Moth: The Worst Thing that Ever Happened to Me,” that made me think about the anatomy of stories and about first person or dramatic events, in particular.

It can be a temptation to rely on “The worst thing that ever happened to me” stories and think your audience will find them gripping, Hartnett said. But intensely personal or sensational stories have a way of “crowding out the audience,” sucking the life out of them.

“The first pitfall of these kinds of stories is this: The more sensational the content of the story, the less attention, I’ve noticed, storytellers pay to the actual craft of storytelling. If you’re telling a story about walking your dog, it’s plainly obvious that you’re going to need to spin it well in order to keep anyone’s interest. But when the content of your story is on its face interesting, it’s tempting to think that all you have to do is “lay it out there” and people will be gripped, which isn’t true at all,” Hartnett says.

Dramatic stories and scenes fuel writing, whether it’s first person memoir or fiction, but it’s imperative to draw on all the elements of good story craft to take the reader or listener on a truly gripping journey.

Hartnett made me think about how drama for the sake of drama isn’t effective. Finding and communicating the meaning behind the events and understanding how readers or listeners would likely relate is what ultimately connects readers with our words. It’s not just about what happened, but how it changed us. How we survived, and maybe even thrived.

Visit The Moth to learn more about first-person storytelling. The Moth is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling

Luna Moth Image courtesy of Maggie Smith/

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