How Do I Tell a Good Story? Part 2
This article on Storytelling is one of a series of four:
• Analyzing a well-known story to better understand the storytelling method
• Looking at the elements of Story Structure
• Storytelling Delivery
• Additional Tips
In our previous article, our analysis of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens demonstrated the use of universally accepted elements of good story structure. In this article, we will examine the elements of story structure and use those elements to tell the greatest stories of all time—those stories found in the Bible.
The Elements of Story Structure
So, let’s consider: What are the elements in the structure of a good story? What are effective methods of story delivery? How can you apply the structure and delivery methods when telling Bible stories?
A good story (such as stories in the Bible) includes:
(1) The Beginning (setting and main character);
(2) The Body (plot which is the problem to be solved);
(3) The Climax (the main problem is solved); and
(4) the End (where you quickly get out of the story without sermonizing).
1. The SETTING of a story, “where the everyday life jumps off the page.”
Use descriptions like the following in telling Old and New Testament stories; words that “take you there” and give color and place:
- The birthplace of civilization
- The Fertile Crescent
- The exotic Garden of Eden
- Sparkling, crystal clear rivers
- Lush landscape
- Trees dripping with succulent fruit
- Romping animals to name and befriend
- The ancient near Middle East with its vast lands of sandy deserts
- A land-locked salt sea
- Trade routes crisscrossing the homeland of the Jews and connecting God’s people with outside cultures.
- A storm tossed lake
- A central city where God dwells with His people on earth.
- Mysterious, powerful Egypt in the south
- Land of the Pharaohs and their many so-called gods
- A land of plenty turned upside down by God’s judgment drought
- A life-sustaining river that becomes blood
- A bug infestation that gobbles what crops remain
- The Red Sea miraculously opens for the Hebrews great escape after 400 years of slavery
- A Roman ruler whose paranoia orders a generation of Jewish boys under two years of age to be killed so a prophesied child-king will not live
- The world dominating Babylonian & Medo-Persian Empires of the north swoop down to capture the Jews
- A crop of Olive trees outside the walled city of Jerusalem where the Messiah submitted to His Father’s will
- A hill nearby called Calvary that became a crime scene when the innocent Lamb of God was wrongly crucified with criminals
- Yet Jesus, the Lamb, was God’s substitute for sinners
- A garden tomb on loan for Jesus’ burial by two former members of the ruling Jewish court who secretly loved Christ
- That heavily guarded and sealed tomb that bursts open to rock the world with hope
- A road called Emmaus where Jesus’ followers’ hearts burned within them at their discovery of the Messiah
- A road to Damascus where a steely determined man on his way to lock up Jesus’ followers had his life changed forever
- The expansive waterway, the Mediterranean Sea, that splashed on the shores of Israel, central Asia, Southern Europe, and North Africa
- Temples to the gods of the Greeks, and Jewish synagogues dotted the landscape, yet the gospel was planted, and sprouted and Christianity spread to the whole world
- The story of the NT concludes on the rocky island of Patmos off the coast of Israel where the most unique book of the New Testament was penned
- God pulled back the curtains of eternity future as the angels told John, “write”
- The emerald rainbow around the throne of Jesus
- The great white throne judgment
- Jesus made King over a brand new, pristine earth
2. The Captivating Character(s) are the people in each story with whom listeners identify.
The Heroes in a story display great faith in God as they live uncompromising in their walk with Him. Kids will pick up on the Godly values the protagonist (hero/heroine) displays. Yet sometimes heroes utterly fail, and God’s unfailing grace draws them back to the one true God. (Adam and Eve, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, etc.)
Villains are often “wolves in sheep’s clothing” trying to outsmart God’s people. The bad guy tries to get the good guy/gal to stumble. When that occurs, kids will be made aware of ungodly attitudes, lack of conscience, or evil actions the antagonist of a story exhibits to reach his dastardly goals. Sometimes even villains have a change of heart toward the God they opposed. Be sensitive in dramatizing the villain to young students, but do not sanitize the villain.
And don’t forget the “ordinary Joe’s” who flesh out the characters in stories. Their supporting presence helps to build the story.
3. The Plot is the body of the story.
The plot drives the main character(s) from his/her ordinary life into rising unforeseen action filled with suspense. The character is on a quest with unpredictable circumstances. The plots may include mystery, intrigue, betrayal, war, struggles, compounded troubles, opposition, reversals, setbacks, racing against the clock, near-the-breaking-point drama, no-way-out dilemmas (two opposing views with only one best solution), disagreement, clashes, pending disaster yet climatically resolving the conflict which completely changes the heart of the character(s) in some way.
4. Every plot must CLIMAX.
That’s when the tension of the story is resolved, or the problem is solved. It is difficult to retain a child’s interest as a listener once the climax is reached.
5. Every story must have an Ending.
You must quickly tie up loose ends and get out of the story without long sermonizing. You will have time to review, emphasize key points and passages, and yes, even sermonize and challenge kids for a decision—but these are not part of the story. The story must be told powerfully and end expeditiously. You can do the above during other pieces of the lesson.
Watch for Part 3, Storytelling Delivery