The Storyteller’s Toolbox: 10 Principles for Crafting Compelling Stories of Impact and Transformation

June 19, 2023

Every pastor is a storyteller. But just because we tell stories doesn’t mean that we are telling stories well–or at least as well as we could be telling them. Leading well pushes us to tell stories well. Stories are the folklore of the culture. They set the tone, carry the values, inspire the movement, and celebrate the heroes. In many ways, we are and we become the stories that we share. This is why we have asked 20-time Emmy Award winner Shawn Vela to share a few of his secrets of storytelling in this month’s article. So, take a few moments to review the 10 principles in the article below and maybe even find a place or two where you could improve your own storytelling.

—Dave Rhodes, Director of Church NEXT

I admit it. I sometimes suffer from “story envy”. 

You know, that moment during a Sunday service when an amazing guest speaker shares their incredible story of overcoming the worst imaginable adversity. Or when you watch a video about the humble beginnings of a life-changing ministry. 

Man, those stories are good!

But then, the ugly thoughts creep in: “Well, they had it easy because…” or “My story is nowhere near that level. Can God even use someone like me?”

Ever felt that way?

“Every story is worth telling because it belongs to the ultimate storyteller–God.”

As a filmmaker with 20 Emmy Awards, here’s a tough lesson I had to learn the hard way: “Every story is worth telling because it belongs to the ultimate storytellerGod.”

Jesus is the master storyteller. The gospel spread like wildfire because people couldn’t resist sharing what he had done in their lives. And let’s not forget his famous parables that captivated the crowds.

Bottom line: Storytelling is arguably the backbone of sharing the gospel, making disciples, and building genuine connections with people. 

So, how can we get better at telling stories? Well, I’ve got some tips.

After years in the film industry and dissecting biblical stories, I’ve found 10 storytelling principles that may help you tell better stories in ministry and leadership:

1. Start In the Middle

Hook your audience by throwing them into the middle of a scene or the middle of the story. Leave them there on a cliff-hanger as an attention grabber. 

2. Frustration

We all have things holding us back from something else. Highlight a moment of surrender or frustration in your story, as this is often the catalyst that puts someone on a new path or journey to overcome.

3. Vulnerability

Nothing is more inviting than when someone opens up and shares something they normally wouldn’t. Displaying vulnerability in your story will make your protagonist more relatable and inspire others to overcome their own vulnerabilities.

4. Secrets

We all like feeling like we are on the inside or have information that others don’t. Revealing a secret or something that is hidden will make your audience feel special and in on the “joke”.

5. Death + Loss

Loss can take many formswhether it be physical, psychological, emotional, circumstantial, or relational. Highlighting the anticipation of loss in your story can create tension and make your audience more invested in your protagonist’s journey.

6. Contradiction

We are all full of contradictions. Amplifying these in your story will make it more relatable and human. Showcasing a contradiction can quickly re-grab your audience’s attention if you feel you’re losing it. 

7. Main Character

When a character does something that aligns with our values or the characteristics we aspire to have, we tend to like them. Creating a character that displays selflessness, sacrificial love, and strong convictions will make your audience root for them and become more invested in their journey.

8. Show Not Tell

Amplify the emotions in your story in order to show, rather than tell. We want to show the audience emotions so they connect deeper with the feelings of our character. This can be done through descriptive language, inflections in your voice, or using tools like music, sound effects, and settings in film.

9. Keep Them Guessing

When the audience experiences a story, they are always asking themselves questions or trying to guess the plot. This is a good thing because it means they are interested and invested in the story. Do things to keep your audience guessing about what will happen next or create a sense of mystery around a character to keep them engaged. Use the words “but” and “therefore” to move through the parts of your story.

10. Full Circle

The story circles back to how the journey began, but with a new understanding. This gives the audience a fuller understanding, a sense of closure, and points to the main point of your story. It can also flip the audience’s perspective, challenging their assumptions and helping them see things in a new light.

There are stories inside of you that only you can tell. 

There are stories inside of you that only you can tell. Every story told is an opportunity for the world to be changed into a better place because of what God has done in our lives–even if it’s simply changing the world of one person who needs to hear it. 

Whether it’s a congregation needing to hear the story of how God can change their life or it’s a close friend who needs encouragement, I hope you know you are not alone in this journey. You have friends cheering you on as you go! 

I can’t wait to hear your story and watch you change the world!

Shawn Vela

Shawn Vela

Shawn Vela is a 20-time Emmy Award-winning producer, director, director of photography, cinematographer, and editor. His cinematography work has been streamed on some of the most popular platforms including Disney+, ESPN, ESPN2, Amazon Prime Video, Entrepreneur Network, BT Sport, Fox, and more. He is the founder of Vela Visuals, a full service video production agency that helps organizations create documentaries, commercials, and TV shows. Shawn leverages his filmmaking background to empower business owners and organizations to effectively share their message through storytelling in his “Stories Change the World” workshops.
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