The ONE thing you must know, to tell powerful stories (1/5 in the story series)

(want to listen to this blog post instead of reading it? Click on this sentence!)

The night we found out my granny was dying, my mum and I lay mattresses down on the floor of her room.

We wanted to be near her. For practical reasons, so that we’d be there if she woke up and needed us. But also for primal ones. We’re Russian. We have a strong herd instinct. It was the end, and we needed to be close. So we lay our mattresses down to sleep.

Except – I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking, “What if she dies, and we miss it?”

I knew it didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But we’d been there when my Grandpa had died. We’d been there when my Uncle B had died. And the thought of her starting that journey alone while, unaware, we slept, was devastating.

Quietly, I stood up, then climbed into her bed and lay behind her. One hand on her bony shoulder, which trembled underneath. The other arm around her waist, until she gripped my hand in her tiny one. The two of us slept like that, spooned, for a few hours.

Then I woke up. And my mum woke up. And then she woke up.

We wet a sponge to give her some water; she was so sick that it was the only way she could drink.

And, although she hadn’t spoken in weeks – or used words that made sense in months – she said, “Spasiba”, which, in Russian, means “Thank you,” and “Dorogaya”, which means, “My beloved.”

Then she did something she hadn’t done in years: she sang a throaty, jaunty, little song!

Na-bereg Katyusha!
Na vwi-soki
Bereg na krootoi!”

She LOVED to sing! And those were the last words she ever said.

With my Uncle B, it was different. Here’s the story of how he died:

It was, a couple of years before my Granny did. We’d all been around for a few days. I guess we knew he was going to – with cancer, it’s sort of obvious when it’s going to happen soon. And some of us were there.

After he died I wasn’t really sad. It took me a while to take it in. I actually felt kind of depressed instead. It’s funny with grief, isn’t it? Sometimes you don’t have the kind of response you might expect to. But then I was alright in the end.

So, which of those two stories did you prefer?

The first one, right? The Granny one.

Why? Because you were THERE with me. You could feel her shoulder trembling, see the sponge, hear her throaty song. You were moved.

Granny tea towel

Crucially, it has nothing to do with what happened in the story. If it was just about content, the Uncle B story was WAY more exciting! In it, he DIES! I get DEPRESSED!

It’s a great example of why the WAY you tell a story is much, much more important than what happens in it.

Over the next 5 blog posts, I’m going to reveal the secrets to telling a story that will captivate your audience – whether you’re talking about a major life epiphany, or about cleaning the toilet.

Start using these in person and online, and you’ll be unforgettable to your dream clients and collaborators – and have them begging to work with you.

Let’s start with the MOST important thing you need to know:

When you tell a story, you’re making a movie inside your audience’s head.

One of the things that makes me so OBSESSED with oral storytelling, is that – unlike TV and movies, it’s not a passive medium. You, as a listener, are an ACTIVE part in what’s happening. There’s even science behind it – when you’re listening to a story, your brain lights up in sync with the person who’s telling it.

(Also, sorry I said “oral”).

So, how do you apply this practically?

A quick exercise:

1. Think of a movie you love.
2. Really remember what it was like.
3. Now tell me: how much of that movie was voice-over and how much was action?

I’m guessing very little of the former, and tons of the latter.

Your stories need to be the same way.

When it comes to storytelling, the difference between action and voice over, is in the detail and in how much of a picture you give. I can say “I went home for Christmas” – that’s voice over. Or, I can say, “As I walked through the front door of my parent’s house, I saw that they’d covered the entire front hall with tinsel and felt a jolt of excitement in my chest”.

(remember how much I LOVE Christmas?)

Voice-over gives you facts. Action scenes give you pictures and feelings.

Of the two stories above, the Granny story was WAY more powerful, because you saw what I was seeing, and felt what I was feeling. The Uncle B one – even though you knew intellectually what was going on, and could maybe make a guess at some of the pictures and emotions – was lifeless* because it was almost ALL voice-over.

*(pardon the pun)(and the Russian-style, gallows humour)

In the next blog, I’m going to give you ideas and tips on how to create powerful action scenes within your stories.

Before then, your job is to keep an ear out as you hear people telling stories. When you enjoy them – is it because you see pictures, and feel feelings? Can you figure out why that is?

And if you would like some one-on-one help from me with your story (or stories in general!), I’d love to help you. Hop over to to find out more.

Now, I’d love to know: how did you feel when you first read those two stories? Tell me, in the comments below!

Thanks so much for reading. If you know someone who wants to tell better stories – or just loves reading little ones about death – you can share this blog with them using one of the little round buttons under this post.

You rule!

xx (Yes Yes) Marsha


PS members of the Yes Yes Family get stories like the ones above – except, they’re usually ones that I won’t put on the internet – delivered to their inbox every week. If you’d like to join and get those, free email coaching – and my free training on the MAGIC BULLET for powerful storytelling, just pop your name and email address in below. It’s free!

Photo credits: Kelly Schott via Compfight cc, and me.


  • Rachel Peterson

    Reply Reply April 21, 2016

    Corinne read me the story of your granny and I was so moved, it was an incredibly special moment, I was right there in the room with you two.
    My memories of Valya- who really was a second mother to me for some of my childhood years- are very special, and you created for me a closing that I, until now ,have not had. Thank you so much.
    Irealise that this is not quite the response you were expecting: my sister Corinne says she has learnt more about storytelling from your website iin a few weeks than she did when registered on an online creative writing course for a year!- and ,yes, I do agree with your coments !
    Keep smiling, I love watching your progress ! Xx

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Beloved GM, what lovely words, thank you!

      And that’s AMAZING from Corinne!! I’m so touched and thrilled! Please tell her thank you!

  • Jocelyn

    Reply Reply April 21, 2016

    Loved this post Marsha. Looking forward to following along with your next clever and heartfelt installments ❤️ YES YES!

  • Arthur

    Reply Reply July 12, 2016

    Powerful! glad this post is my first experience with your audio blog.

  • Eli from Mexico

    Reply Reply August 2, 2016

    I would love to know the meaning of that song :)

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      My Granny’s song? I’m afraid the one tiny snippet I sang isn’t terribly exciting!
      “Katyusha set out on the banks/
      On the steep and lofty bank.”
      But the main of the song is about her preserving her love for her (soldier) beloved, much as he is preserving the Motherland!

  • Lynn

    Reply Reply August 7, 2016

    Very enlightening post Marsha! I’m anxious to learn more from you!

  • Ann Marie Moore

    Reply Reply November 26, 2016

    I’ve been wondering how to use story telling in a non-fiction setting. Writing fiction has helped me expand my horizons but I’m still lacking confidence in telling my real life stories creatively. I am a “showing me” person and your examples are a great help. Thank you, Marsha.

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Reply Reply November 26, 2016

      Ann Marie, what an absolutely LOVELY comment, you’ve made my day!

      I’m so glad you’re finding the suggestions helpful. Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know!

  • Matt Kowald

    Reply Reply December 19, 2017

    Blew me away, how engaged I was in the story of your grandma!
    Amazing tip and use of emotions :)

    Thanks for the incredible insight!

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