The Secret to Being a Great Storyteller

The people who master an art like storytelling are not aliens with freakish talents and powers; they’re just the people who care the most.

It takes a massive amount of self-discipline and faith to devote years and years to getting incrementally better at a craft, and to push through the dark times of tedious monotony, doubts and failures.

The way through is to love what you do.

If you need proof, just look at any of the greats. Take Quentin Tarantino for example. He’s freaking good at what he does mostly because he is so deeply and obsessively in love with it.

In this beautiful old interview with Charlie Rose you can hear the exuberance and infatuation in his voice when he talks about his lifelong love affair with story. Just talking about his process for learning and practicing his art brings him joy.

His advice for aspiring artists could be distilled to this:

Love and obsess about it.

Study the heroes in the field, not just their works but their lives and philosophies too. Love, absorb and borrow techniques, and then use all that knowledge and emotion and excitement to create something personal, and therefore unique.

Tarantino practices this wholeheartedly. He seems to approach his craft with an almost religious reverence, refusing to let anyone go with him to his first viewings of certain films. He goes to the premiere alone so he can sit in a pew and just absorb and experience the emotional impact of the whole work.

Then he returns (alone again) for the midnight show, so he can form more personal impressions and think the piece over some more.

After that, he watches the film again and again with other people all the while studying their reactions and taking note of the specific techniques the directors used to create those experiences for the audience.

This is such a brilliant strategy for learning a craft, and it doesn’t require a big financial investment or specialized classes. All it takes is to approach stories with a conscious awareness of the workmanship behind every tiny effect.

Anyone can read a book and experience the emotional impact and verisimilitude from the consumer’s perspective, but someone who loves story will read it again and again to uncover the techniques and see how they worked.

And in the modern age where everyone has an opinion and the desire to share it, there are dozens if not hundreds of detailed “audience perspective” reactions for every story all on the record… what people liked or hated, how they felt, what they hoped for, what disappointed them, what excited them. It’s all gold for an aspiring writer.

The secret to being a great storyteller is that there is no secret — just be perpetually infatuated, curious, and attentive. Be in love.

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