What is storytelling?

This may seem a strange question, after all Homo sapiens is the storytelling species. We are the language using ape. Other species may communicate our nearest relatives, chimps, certainly do but complex storytelling, I’m doubtful. It is only humans who use stories to explain abstract ideas like freedom, slavery, love and quantum physics.

There are some rules we need to follow until we know them backwards. Once we reach that stage we can break the rules consciously to create the story we are trying to tell.

Do not be put off by the idea of storytelling. It not just for fiction, indeed it is essential for any podcaster. Whether you’re producing audio essays or you and three friends get together to discuss sport, your show will be telling a story.

The story is as much about you as the ideas you are spreading. Think of Homer and the Iliad. It informs us of the poet and his culture as much as the wrath of Achilles. The choosing of your style will reflect much about yourself or, perhaps more correctly, will reflect much about how listeners choose to see you.

So to the process.

There basically seven different types of story.

  1. Overcoming the monster.
  2. Rags to riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy and
  7. Rebirth.

If we look a little more closely at these we see they are in fact variations on a theme.

A character faces something which changes them. Even in a comedy and by comedy I’m thinking Shakespearean comedy but even a National Lampoon comedy has the same elements. Think of the Taming of the Shrew. Both Katherine and Petruchio are changed through the telling of the story.

Think of national Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, the Griswolds face many a trial to reach their quest of a traditional family christmas. They are changed through the process and become closer as a family.

The point is, if you’re podcasting what is the point of each episode. If your niche is true crime, then it comes obvious but even then releasing facts in a particular order can take your audience off to different places before bringing them home to the facts.

A “How to” podcast defines the problem, provides the answer and delivers the skills to move from the problem to the solution.

Once we have the basic idea of storytelling embedded in our thinking then creative methods become a viable option. The judicious use of sound effects, maybe some underlying music and even “dead” space can all enhance the story. Once you are clued into this watch your and others’ reactions whilst watching films. Note the music, the background sounds, the silences. These can and indeed the really good use of these is very subtle.

Sometimes a sledgehammer works too. Think of the music accompanying the shark in the Jaws films.

As an aside I would urge to be extremely careful with the sound effects and music you employ. Unless you have paid for the license to use them or you collected them from a “creative commons” source, you are leaving yourself open to legal action if you breach copyright laws. I am in no way a legal professional nor am I offering legal advice but be careful. From what I have read, copyright is administered at the national level so you could be sued in all jurisdictions on earth if you incorrectly used someone else’s work.

There are plenty of creative commons options, especially for sound effects. Youtube has a library of safely downloadable sound effects. On the same page are safe music clips as well. There is a link in the transcript. (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/soundeffects)

I’ve used some of the sound effects but none of the music. The sound effects are fine.

As I say, it is easy to get carried away sound effects so step lightly to begin.

Other ways to enhance your audio is with direct quotes. Again to avoid copyright issues I search youtube and set the filter to creative commons. It is then possible to rip audio from these videos for use in your show. There’s some links in the transcript to web based services which do this:



By judicially adding clips you can enhance the authority of your storytelling process without actually having to organise skype calls and so on.

Indeed with the available resources nowadays there is no excuse for poorly constructed podcasts. Listen with the storytellers ear to the shows you subscribe to this week and see how others are doing the job.

On a sad confessional note, I end up watching Pokemon at work each morning as part of my routines, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. The point being, each episode tells a story. There are villains, challenges, accomplishments and setbacks on the quest journey of the heros. If you have kids and find yourself watching the fine program just discussed or any others in the genre take the extra effort to critically analyse the plot structures and the storytelling processes in use.

As I said at the start of this episode, we are the storytelling animal on this planet. If everyone from governments to advertising agencies to anime studios are consciously using this ability, it behoves us as citizens to understand the process. As podcasters it will change the way we produce content for the better.