What makes a good storyteller?

There are probably as many answers to that question as there are people, but for me, there are several factors that set a truly good storyteller apart.

1) They are believable.

I know this is a personal preference, but I hate unreliable narrators. I know they are supposedly great for analyzing and for their social commentary, but I find myself shying away from a narrator that steps on the toes of their own story. I want a narrator who stays out of the way, doesn’t muddle the facts with their own opinions, but who can still give me an accurate view of what’s going on. I find myself drawn to third person omniscient narrators and remained unconvinced by most stories told in first person.

2) They evoke a strong sense of place and can portray deep characters.

Nobody wants a generic setting. If I am being transported to another place, I want that place to come alive, with all its imperfections and idiosyncrasies. In good stories, place is just as much as character as people. And people are hard to capture, filled with emotions and desires. But people often run deeper than their desires, and sometimes even the best characters don’t know what they want. A good storyteller can portray the complexity of the human condition without overly-simplifying or sounding trite.

3) They have a few tricks up their sleeve.

Whether it’s the plot twist of a favorite novel, the lack of a clear denouement, or the sound effects and repetition one might hear in an oral story, a good storyteller knows that some surprises keep the reader or listener attentive and wanting more.

4) What they tell stays with you.

We all have a collection of stories that have never left us, and no matter how long we go without reading or hearing them, we can still remember them. The characters are old friends and their misadventures are our own mistakes, their successes our triumphs. The story has gripped our hearts in a way that makes it impossible to forget.


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