How Do I Tell a Good Story? Part 1

Blog How Do I Tella Good Story

“All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables [stories]; indeed, He said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.’” (Matthew 13:34-35)

“And He was teaching them many things in parables [stories], and in His teaching He said to them: ‘Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow….’” (Mark 4:2-3)

“With many such parables [stories] He spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it.” (Mark 4:33)

A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Jesus told parables so that His disciples would understand what He taught. Others, who listened to Jesus’ parables but had no desire to believe what He taught, did not understand the parables. But those people who were genuinely interested in the truth Jesus taught, would be able to understand His parables and “hear” it; they would hear it with a view to obeying.

All people love to hear stories told, especially children! Storytelling is one of the oldest, yet most effective, forms of passing truth—teaching—from one generation to another. And storytelling is one captivating method that never loses its appeal.

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

Analyzing a Well-known Story to Better Understand the Storytelling Method

Blog How Do I Tella Good Story Pict2

Analyzing "A Christmas Carol"

Charles Dickens’ story, “A Christmas Carol,” became a classic story known to many throughout the years through the book, film versions, and plays. Let’s consider the makeup of this story as we look at elements of good storytelling.

Could it be that Charles Dickens, in presenting dramatic readings of “A Christmas Carol” in the mid-1860s at a Boston church and three other US locations, influenced America’s congress and president Grant? Afterall, in 1870 Grant signed legislation making Christmas a federal holiday. Dickens’ 90-minute oral rendering of his novel had turned “Bah! Humbug!” attitudes into a merry making “God bless us everyone!”

The content alone in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was enough to gain and keep the audience’s attention. But while rooming in Boston’s Parker House Hotel, Dickens said he stood before a large mirror in his room and for hours practiced “exaggerated voices and facial expressions for each story character from Tiny Tim to Scrooge.” Those long practice sessions with self-critique made Dickens’ dramatic rendering of his story very convincing. Dickens’ dramatic reading matches the mood and emotions of the storyline and its characters. It is written that audiences “laughed, cried, and were taken to tears because his characters were just amazing.” [i]

Imagine watching Dickens dramatically portraying Scrooge: hunched over his desk as he berates Bob Cratchit; heartlessly ignoring relationships while loving money; his frightening faces as he is whisked away by the Ghosts of Christmas past, present and future; exhibiting a bubbly, cheery soul after his conversion.

Dickens’ gestures, mannerisms, body language, tone, and dramatic dialogues carried his story-reading performances. The following Q & A can help understand how Dickens conveyed his story structure in his novel:

How did Dickens gain people’s attention? Answer: The descriptive setting and characters. Dickens starts with “Marley was dead” and launches into descriptions that grab readers’ and listeners’ attention.

How does Dickens awaken the emotions of the audience? Answer: Tiny Tim’s physical problems and his sweet spirit that shone through his personality. This is just one example of characters and situations that get the audience emotionally involved in the story.

What kept Dickens’ audience alert? Answer: Marley’s clanging chains when warning Scrooge to watch the clock announcing the three ghost visits to come.

What was the “big idea” of Dickens’ story? Answer: It’s who you are in life that impacts others, and yourself at death.

What’s the turning point in Dickens' story? Answer: When the spirit shows Scrooge his gravestone – a lonely death inconsequential to others. That helps Scrooge to see he still has time to change.

What is the climax of the story? Answer: Scrooge’s “conversion” demonstrated by his merry, generous spirit which led to his purchase of a turkey for the Cratchit's family; increased wages for his office worker, Bob Cratchit; and the purchase of more coal to warm the office.

What happens after the climax? Answer: Dickens quickly ends his story without sermonizing. And the audience is changed for the good.

You may not be Charles Dickens, but are you . . .

  • Starting with a question or statement or description that grabs the attention of the audience right from the start?
  • Looking for and using situations and characteristics of characters to awaken the emotions of your audience?
  • Using memory hooks and hand motions to keep the audience engaged?
  • Making sure that the big idea of the story is clearly emphasized?
  • Clearly communicating the turning point and climax of the story bringing home that big idea?
  • Reaching the end of your story and stopping—not rambling on and on?

This analysis of Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol" demonstrates the use of universally accepted elements of good story structure. Look for the next article "Looking at the Elements of Story Structure" and use those elements to tell the greatest stories of all time—those stories found in the Bible.

[i] (

To learn more about our upcoming BibleStorying for Evangelism Workshop, CLICK HERE

iStock 000015526999Small

Join Our Mailing List

Get notices for new products, resources, and training events.

Set your country and language

We will add support for new countries and languages in the future.