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Storytelling - All The Most Important Definitions, Concepts, Wordings and Descriptions You'll Ever Need (in Alphabetic Order)

Today, a simple post with a series of very important definitions and descriptions related to storytelling, as follow up to The Nine Very Best Quotes on Storytelling, and their deeper meaning. All descriptions below are an excerpt of The Whole Story - The Ultimate Guide to Storytelling, and are my own definitions based on storytelling theory and my own experience in crafting stories. The wordings are meant for all types of story, including novels, documentaries, film and general fiction and non-fiction, as well as business, brand and organizational storytelling. We'll do it in alphabetic order, except for the first two, who are definitions of storytelling itself. Feel free to always come back here!


Storytelling Definition

My personal storytelling definition: "A story is a depiction of audio, visual and/or written events, that is full of conflict, challenges, transition and change, emotionally intelligent in its goal of sharing information, while creating an interesting paradox, so the receiver of the story is engaged to learn its life lessons."


The Essence of Storytelling

The essence of storytelling is exchanging information in an emotionally relevant manner. The problem is that the human mind doesn't store information easily, unless it is emotionally depicted. We remember scenes from a movie we watched 20 years ago. But not what was on that spreadsheet 20 seconds ago... because there is no feeling attached to it. Human beings communicate through emotions, even if we think we are not. In fact, emotions are themselves the very first and most primary means of communication. Gestures, sounds, facial expressions and eye movements all convey emotions and show to others what we think and feel. And they have done so since the dawn of our time. That's why storytelling should always be emotionally relevant, even if most of the time it is showing us functional information.


Now that those two very important general descriptions concerning storytelling are out of the way, let's have a look at the alphabetic list!


  • Action - Refers to things literally being set in motion and the thing we wish to achieve in storytelling: meaningful changes. Action is not about explosions, although it can be. It’s about those steps that move the narrative forward. So even a silence or a stare can be considered an action if it moves the story towards a new point. The first action is always the most important, because it triggers other moving parts of a story, called the reactions. Also, ‘Action!’ is what we call out when the camera’s rolling. Just saying.

  • Anti-climax – Unsatisfactory finale of a story, usually caused by either a lack of sufficient pressure towards the climax, or illogical outcomes.

  • Anthology – Story form where we follow different people that do not know each other, all as main characters affected by the same context.

  • Antagonist – The main persona we rally against.

  • Archetype, Prototype & Stereotype – An Archetype is a complete and believable persona, based on universally recognizable trades. It is an extension from the original Prototype, which is a more simple, basic, or pure ‘form’, referring to an origin or protos, and stands out against the demographics-only stereotype, which is generally consider more of a cliché in persona and character building.

  • Artistic license – A fancy way of saying you are free as a creator.

  • Avatar – The main character or persona in whose shoes we walk.

  • Backstory – Everything from the past and all aspects that are unique about a persona, that ultimately determine motivations: the why someone does the things that they do.

  • Bad Guy or Girl – The one who can’t accept the truth.

  • Beat sheet – The schedule that keeps track of the steps in your story, establishing a certain rhythm or rhythmic logic to it.

  • Brand – The entirety of unique marks – such as the name, design, color, symbol, or any other unique feature – that make up a particular good or service. Used as a shortcut in the mind for buying decisions.

  • Branded content – Useful and inspirational content that has relevance in consumers’ lives first or offers meaningful experiences. It refers to brand content that is more valuable to consumers than mere advertising messages.

  • Catharsis – Relief, letting it all out, even the bad stuff, in a safe manner.

  • Change/Motion – In storytelling both terms are interchangeable. Change and motion refer to the goal of storytelling, where there is movement from one thing to another, where we end up in a different place – literally or figuratively – then where we started. Change and motion can be emotional, psychological, geographical, spiritual, literal, figurative… as long as it represents movement.

  • Characteristics – Things the persona identifies with and are typical and unique about them.

  • Cliffhanger - A climax that remains unresolved until the next episode or iteration of the work of art.

  • Climax/Finale & Anti-climax – The moment when the pressure is greatest and things will truly change. Also referred to as turnaround point or point of no return. The anti-climax is when things end up unsatisfactory or do not make enough sense.

  • Comedy, Tragedy, Tragicomedy – The tragedy is ‘virtuous’ and meant to teach us a lesson. The comedy deals with less virtuous and less serious people, is meant to entertain, and always has a happy ending. Tragicomedy merges the idealistic with the pessimistic.

  • Conflict/Friction – In storytelling both terms are interchangeable. It refers to challenges, obstacles, trials, and tribulations along the way of the narrative journey. Can be used both figuratively and literally.

  • Context – A particular set of circumstances. The ‘surrounding parts’ of your story.

  • Contrast – Setting things apart.

  • Corporate culture – The way a company acts on the inside, reflecting behavior that is steered by values, corporate identity and to a degree, brand personality (the outside).

  • Corporate Identity – The combination of vision (what will happen to the market category in the future), mission (what are we going to do about it), values (who are we long-term), and culture (how do we behave).

  • Creativity – the ability to logically connect two pieces of data by ‘imagining’ them being connected. Creativity is connecting the dots.

  • Crisis – the moment where all options are exhausted, A choice is inevitable, and a binary value statue flips.

  • Current vs Desired Situation – Going from the status quo right now to the new and desired status quo, making this a reality.

  • Dialogue – A conversation between two people.

  • Dramatization – Depiction of real events yet in an emotionally engaging, and possibly not entirely factful manner. The exact facts are often not followed when dramatizing, but the gist of the truth is still the same as in real life.

  • Elevator pitch – A very, very short moment in which you can pitch your story, not lasting any longer than the elevator ri…

  • Emotions – They are physiological communication devices that are used for surviving and thriving. They both communicate to ourselves and to others, depending on a given situation. Emotions are physical signals and reactions of the body that push us into decision-making. They are designed to trigger the release of different kinds of hormones – from the stress hormone cortisol to happiness inducing endorphins – that make synapses in our bodies fly so we react to situations. Emotions are equipment for survival.

  • Empathy – The ability to relate with someone else and understand the emotions and actions of a person, regardless of whether you agree with them.

  • Endings / Open, Closed or Ambiguous – A closed ending closes the story, with nothing left to say or do in the story arc. Open endings leave the resolution open, to continue beyond the timeframe of the story, while not showing what the ending ultimately will be. Ambiguous endings are closed but with a catch: they can be looked upon from different angles.

  • Exposition – Exposition is explaining the story… and should be dealt with carefully. Every time you talk about information while you could be showing it, you’re doing it wrong.

  • Fake News – An untruthful news-like story that presents itself as true news.

  • Method Acting – An unusually deep, empathic dive into the motivations of a character for purposes of acting and make-belief, make it all even more believable.

  • Monologue – A dialogue with oneself, often consisting  of an inner conflict between two value states that live in your own mind.

  • Motivations  &  Ulterior  motives  –  The  deeper interplay between values and emotions that creates wilful movement from the persona.  Sometimes motivations are out in the open, for everyone to see. But sometimes personas can have ulterior motives, hidden from others and/or the audience and will be revealed later.

  • Outlining – This is a process with index cards that each holds important information – such a persona moods, geographical places, and events – which can then be shuffled around and arranged until the rhythm feels good.

  • Paperclip Principle – You can make anything – even a paperclip – interesting with a journey.

  • Paradox – A logical contradiction that fits two things together that at first glance do not fit.

  • Paradox of Choice – Having so many options in so many things – including in media choice – that the choice itself becomes so stressful it paralyzes and no choice is made at all.

  • Pay-off – the moment our setups are resolved.

  • Persona – All possible entities for storytelling, including without being complete; fictional characters, brands, and organizational identities, cities, towns, nations, charities, universities, educational organizations, political movements, restaurants, bars, clubs, gyms, yoga schools, sports teams, artwork, archetypes, prototypes, personalities and many more.

  • Personal relevance – A good story or message needs something that the receiver relates to on a personal level.

  • Plots & Themes – The plot is the main ‘current’ of the story, the direction in which it streams and flows, while the theme is the main subject or topic, the thing it is all about.

  • Point zero – Media free point of your story, where the only relevant question is: how should it feel?

  • Positioning – Determining the inside (corporate identity) and outside (brand personality) of the business persona, which when combined show you your position in the market relative to others.

  • Procrastination – Actively avoiding the work. This can be both beneficial and detrimental, depending on the situation.

  • Projecting – A one-way street of communication where someone tries to force his or her worldview on others.

  • Propaganda – Repeated lies. Propaganda is not simply a lie, but a vast repetition of a lie or a set of lies tied to the same false narrative, and with the express goal of establishing these lies as the truth.

  • Protagonist – The main character we ‘root for’.

  • Pull & Push – Refers to a message being either attractive enough to let audiences come to you or having to push your message because it’s not attractive enough on its own merit.

  • Purpose – The reason a brand exists.

  • Ratio & Logic – Thinking means you can connect bits of information in your mind and construct them through a process we refer to as ‘logic’ or ‘ratio’.

  • Receiver – The one experiencing your story.

  • Resolution – The end part of the story. A satisfying resolution is reached when you allow the receiver of your message to reconstruct all your cues and reach their own conclusion, in both a logical and emotionally satisfying manner.

  • Scene – A scene is a moment in the story with a clear beginning and ending, its own arc and resolution, as a part of the entire story.

  • Sender - The one showing others the story.

  • Setup – Prearranged pattern with the express goal of revealing something at a later time in your story.

  • Sequence & Sub quest - Different scenes put together with an underlying connecting theme. Interchangeable with the words ‘sub quest’ that relate more to the end goal of the particular sequence.

  • Showrunners – The shot-callers: the people, often high-up directors, producers, and writers, who are responsible for a film or series project.

  • Status quo – A state without meaningful change.

  • Story – A story is a series of happenings or events full of challenges, and change, that is emotionally intelligent and creates an interesting paradox between function and emotion, ultimately giving us equipment for living. With stories we communicate abstract things that don’t literally have to exist. But we can construct them so that we do feel them. Storytelling conveys abstract function and emotion in such a way that the receiver can reformulate it in their own minds.

  • Story arc – A literal bow that goes from status quo to inciting incident, lots of changes in the journey, building up to crisis and climax, ultimately landing in a new status quo.

  • Story beats – The speed, flow and rhythm of your story elements combined.

  • Story core – The main message of the story, the reason why it is told.

  • Storyboarding – Sketching out each shot individually before the camera’s roll.

  • Sympathy – The ability to go beyond just relating with someone else and understand their emotions and actions, but also agree with them and stand behind them.

  • Target Group/Audience – People you want to reach.

  • Theme – the main topic of the story

  • Transition – A big change in value states of the persona.

  • Two-way communication – A state of communication when the sender and receiver are aligned.

  • Values – Long-term logical thought constructs, typically formed in childhood that steer both short- term emotional responses and longer-term rational behavior. Values are part of what we consider ‘nurture’ or ‘upbringing’, the things we are taught in life.

  • Value States – The state of being, governed by values, that the persona is currently in. Can change when the context is so strong that ‘nature’ takes over.

  • Wants and Needs – The things a persona wants and needs, driving action, reaction, and general behavior of this persona.

  • Withholding information – Narrative device that leaves the receiver in the dark of what will happen next, with the aim of building suspense.

  • World view & Character view – Decision on how the receiver sees the world of the character. How much of the world and/or how much of the character is shown to the audience?

  • Worlds of Emotion & Story Canvas – Each world of emotion has its own rules, its own principles, its own peculiarities and crucially, its own set of emotions, with colors, sounds, shapes, and forms you paint on its canvas.

  • Writer’s block & Creative Resistance – The fear of actually doing the creative work leads to a moment of creative despair when nothing flows out of you. The term ‘writer’s block’ is deceiving because the blockage is never in your creative power, but always in other parts of your life that do not flow well. The result is a resistance to the start of the work. Steven Pressfield his term ‘creative resistance’ is therefore a better description.


Love, as always,

Rogier



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