From George Eliot to Shakespeare, Warwickshire has a rich literary history and is a thriving place for writers, like me, these days too. Last weekend, the BBC Academy, Coventry University School of Media and Performing Arts and the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum came together for the Coventry Storytelling Festival with a, wonderful aim: To explore what makes a great story.
Listening to inspiring speakers including BBC News’ Maxine Mawhinney, The Archers’ scriptwriter Tim Stimpson and Flashlight True Life Storytellers, seven lessons stuck with me:
- Start with curiosity: Pursue stories that intrigue you. Never lose this sense of curiosity. Let it grow into passion. You’re more likely to stick with it and produce something special that will interest your audience.
- Enhance with research: Find unique angles and perspectives to enrich the story you’re telling by doing research, embracing new experiences and asking questions. Ask who, what, when, where, why and how. These may sound simple and unoriginal but they’re incredibly powerful. You’ll discover new ideas, varied opinions and will uncover details that could make your story more vivid and memorable.
- Bring your story to life: You are the only thing between the audience and the story. Bring it alive. Use your knowledge, subjects and research to add sparkle. Narrate with all senses, make it immersive, make it believable.
- Pace for impact: Don’t exhaust or bore your audience. Pace the story and its events, especially if you’re writing long form such as a novel or drama series, to ensure impact. Always move the story forward and have something new to unveil even if you have to dig deep to uncover it or find an original way to express it.
- Keep going: It’s normal to feel vulnerable and uncertain even if you have years of storytelling experience. Stick with it. Confidence grows through writing and as you get used to sharing your work with the world. Surround yourself with other writers and regular inspiration. It’s great to bounce things off people whose opinions you value. Invite them to comment on your ideas in their early stages through to later drafts. Advice, challenge and encouragement will keep you motivated.
- Create luck: Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Invest in developing your craft, write often and produce something special then look out for openings for your work. Blogging is a great way to develop your writing and demonstrate a genuine interest in your subject over time. It can also help you reach out and make new connections. Be active in your search for opportunities such as writing competitions, events and calls for submissions such as those listed in the BBC’s Writers Room. Remember, luck is not always instantaneous. Be persistent but polite.
- Handle feedback with grace: When you put your work out into the world, whether it’s by blogging or getting published, take the time to listen to feedback but don’t let it ruin you. Pick out the useful bits that could help guide future work and discard feedback that’s irrelevant, ill-considered or plain spiteful. Ignore trolls but thank people who have taken the time to share genuine opinions. It can help you build relationships with them, encourage them to take interest in your future work and, best of all, grow your audience over time.
Whatever you write, I hope these lessons from two days immersed in storytelling are helpful and encourage you to be curious, do you best work and create luck. I hear there may be another Storytelling Festival in Coventry next year and, if there is, I highly recommend going along to learn from more great storytellers.
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