What is a Story, and Why Does It Matter?

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Part 3: Introductions that Grab Listeners and Dialog that Holds Them

How long does it take you to decide if you want to watch the movie you just turned on, or read the book you just picked up? If it seems to start slowly, will you sit through 15 minutes of the movie, or read 10 pages of the book? Most people won't. Apparently, research has shown that most people will not willingly endure even 5 minutes of a presentation they find boring before they move on to something else. Clearly, making the beginning (the Introduction) of a recording interesting has real value. What are some ways to do this?

The first parts of every good story - characters, setting, and Inciting Incident give us many clues:

All stories have characters - usually people, though in fiction or fantasy, the characters are sometimes animals, alien beings, or even inanimate objects like talking furniture or toys. The story takes place as the characters interact with each other. Our recordings have characters in them - even the ones that have only one speaker (narrator). The characters interact with each other or with the listening audience, and the audience is drawn in, if the characters interest or attract them.

If the format of your script is a dialog, or at least starts with a dialog, it means that your characters are talking with each other. But where are they talking with each other? And why are they talking with each other? All interaction takes place somewhere and for some reason. Your dialog will seem much more natural and understandable to the listeners if they can sense that it is taking place in a setting - especially if it's a setting that feels familiar to them. Perhaps background sound will create this feeling. And/or a few comments that hint at the setting. For example: A: "Put your load down and sit here by the fire." B: "It's chilly this morning." The listeners know something about the setting by just these few words. To sound natural, the dialog normally won't describe the scene in lots of detail, because people don't usually describe to each other what they can all see. But it will give hints.

Besides giving hints about the setting, well-designed dialogs will indicate the relationship of the speakers to each other. People don't have to call each other, "Father", "sister", "friend", to do this. How many times do you address your friend as "friend"? My guess is, not often. In many cultures, people don't even use each other's names much in simple greetings. However people interact in the culture of the language being recorded, a good dialog will help the listeners identify the relationship between the speakers.

We can often tell something about people's relationships to each other by the tone and content of what they say. None of us talks the same way to a stranger as we talk with our spouse, close friend, or children. People will rarely share intimate information with a stranger. Nor will they quickly trust information from a stranger. Most of the time, dialogs in our scripts about deep or significant things should take place between people who the listeners can sense have an established relationship.

Even when we know people well, there's usually a reason why we talk to them. There's something we want to share, accomplish, clarify, avoid, or decide with them. If we use dialog to begin our message, the more important, urgent, or exciting that thing is, the more it will draw our listeners in. The characters face a challenge, need, or desire that they need to communicate together about. That is called the Inciting Incident. It's a situation (incident) that causes (incites) communication/action.

How many movies have you watched that begin with, "Hello, friend. How are you today? Can I share some good news with you?" Or books that start with, "Greetings. The things I am about to tell you are very important. Please read on." Many of our scripts begin this way. Movies, TV shows, or books never do. Why is that? Producers and authors know that they need to grab their audience and make them eager to understand what's going on and what will happen next. They don't take for granted that people will keep listening, watching, or reading beyond the first few moments unless those moments are interesting. Even though our message is more precious and important that all the movies, shows, and books in the world, our listeners don't necessarily realize that. Why not make our introductions interesting, to attract the listeners and draw them in? It's well worth the effort. I'll give more suggestions about how to do this in Part 4: More Ideas on Introductions that Grab Listeners.

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What is a Story, and Why Does It Matter? - A series of articles by Clair Rulison on the role of stories in GRN scripts