Make every story captivating, using this Hollywood tip (2/5 in the story series)

(Prefer to listen to this story as an audio recording? Click here!)

The young man looked at me, his eyebrows raised in a question. He was handsome, though surely fifteen years younger than me. Stood below him, I flushed, and felt the small grip of panic in my chest. I knew what I wanted, but I had no idea how to tell him.

“S-s’il vous plait…” I stuttered, taking a deep breath. “Uh… le….blueberry?”

That was me, this morning. Here’s another way I could have told that story:

I’m in Montreal right now. I find it quite stressful when I’m here, because my French is really terrible. So, when I’m ordering things in cafes, I always feel like I should try and speak the language, but I don’t have the vocabulary for it. Also, I have this irrational fear of getting things wrong in front of strangers. This morning I couldn’t remember the word for blueberry when I ordered a juice and I did it quite badly.

Not as exciting that time around, was it?

You know how some people can make ANY story totally gripping? Even when it’s about something quite pedestrian. Want to know how they do that?

They tell their stories as action scenes.

In the previous blog, I explained that, when you’re telling a story, you’re making a movie inside someone’s brain. As with any film, it’s important that most of it is made up, not of voice-over or montage, but of action scenes.

I showed you how the difference between these three, when it comes to storytelling, is about how much detail you go into. Action scenes have the most. And today, I’m going to break down how to write a great one.

In order to have powerful action scenes when you’re telling a story, you need to ask yourself two questions:

1. What did it look like?

2. How did you feel?


Let’s start with “What did it look like?”

I know this might feel intimidating. Let me reassure you that you don’t have to describe EVERYTHING you could see.

All you need are the parts that are important. For example, in the story above, the fact that the man was handsome and much younger than me, feels relevant: his handsomeness was enough to increase my nerves, but his youth showed you that it wasn’t likely to be a romantic scenario.

But his hair colour? What he was wearing? Not relevant.

In the story I told about my granny (in blog number one of this series), I told you that my mum and I put mattresses on the floor of her bedroom. Those were important – because it shows you that we weren’t sleeping in beds that were already there. It was such an important time, that we made an effort to sleep in the room with her.

But the bedding we used? Or what time we went to sleep? 1 1 1 1 pretzeNot relevant.

Think about which visuals need to be in the story. Was where you were standing relevant? Put it in. Does it not matter that Jenny was wearing a hat? Leave it out.

If you can add visuals that tell us some back story – maybe seven empty pretzel packets on the desk tells us that you’d been procrastinating over your work that day* – even better.

*(I may or may not have drawn that example from my life at this exact moment)


How did you feel?

This is essential, because we have to care about your character – i.e. you – in the story.

If I told you that I sometimes don’t have the French to correctly order juice, there’s not a lot at stake, and it’s hard for you to be interested.

But by telling you that I find not knowing the right words very stressful, suddenly you’re invested.

In longer stories, knowing how you feel can ramp up the tension. Say you know that I’m really nervous about meeting my hero. I then layer on the fact that my hair’s gone insane (and we all know the effect THAT has on our self-esteem). Once I finally meet him, you’re invested in what might happen. And then, when it goes BRILLIANTLY, you’re able to feel excited for me. The breaking of that tension has a powerful impact.

When we hear or read stories, our brains respond as if we are IN the story. So if you describe your emotions – we’ll feel them too. If they move around a lot – that building of tension and then breaking it – even more so.

And, as the great Maya Angelou said:

Click on this pic to tweet it!

(click on this pic to tweet it!)

Want to make an impression on people? Make them feel – by telling them how you felt.

So, if you want your stories to be captivating, make sure that you always ask yourself these two questions:

What did it look like?


How did I feel?

If you want to tell great stories, ask yourself: 
What did it look like? How did I feel?


In the next blog, I’m going to reveal the number one way people ruin their own stories.

If, in the meantime, you’d like some personalised help telling your story, it’s literally my favourite thing to do. Hop over to to find out more.

But for now, I’d love to know what you thought of today’s tip. Does it seem easy to you? Any questions? Let me know in the comments below!

Thanks so much for reading! If you know someone who would like this blog (or who you secretly wish told more engaging stories), I’d love it if you shared it with them, using one of those round buttons below, or by clicking HERE to share it on Facebook, or HERE to share it on twitter.

You rule!

xx (Yes Yes) Marsha


PS if you want even more tips and advice – plus some stories that I *won’t put on the internet – come and join the Yes Yes Family. It’s free! Just pop your details in below:

Photo Credits: D Simmonds via Compfight cc, and me.


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