The Basics of Storytelling: The Surprise

Posted: April 23, 2012 in journalism

Tell me a story.

We tell stories to move the listener or get him or her to do something. We tell stories to children to get them to go to sleep. We tell them around the campfire. As we get older, stories are told for more complex reasons. And they almost always involve money.  

In the academic deconstructing of the concept of story, Drew Keller seeks to break the storytelling model into smaller segments (beginning, middle and end). He says every story starts with exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and denouement.  But I think that model misses something.

The surprise.

It’s the one thing that separates a good story from one you tell over and over and over again. It’s the one thing about the hero that doesn’t fit. It’s the nurse who hates the sight of blood, the acrobat afraid of heights or the actor scared to death to take the stage.

Surprise shakes our perceptions and grabs our attention. It’s the piece of the puzzle that makes a character more complex, more human. It’s essential. And for me, when it comes to storytelling that should be no surprise.


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