Story is everything

Turan Ali

I attended a workshop run by Turan Ali, Director of RNTC International Media Training Centre, in The Netherlands at the recent Highway Africa conference and Ali’s very important point (aimed at journalists and people who work in the media) is that information delivery is very different from actual story-telling. Story-telling is what humans have done for millennia and are wired to do and listen to, and receive meaning from. Information imparting has a vital place in our societies but just doesn’t have quite the same power.

So what if journalists could use story-telling techniques and information imparting techniques together? It’s a tantalising thought. These are my notes from the really interesting two-hour workshop in Grahamstown.

Preliminary points

  • Story is at the heart of everything
  • For journalism information is at the heart
  • Information is not enough – it does not create connections
  • The inverted pyramid and 5Ws and H are good for collecting information, research, but they kill story if used as organising tools for telling stories.

Story has six key elements which go beyond beginning, middle and end, a story plays out on a terrain with rising tension on one hand and across time on the other.

See the graph: Universal story theory by Turan Ali

  1. A question which lies at the heart of the story and drives it – when in the story is this question posed? (see this piece on the Poynter site about finding your story’s “north star”)
  2. An answer which lies at the climax of the story.
  3. An underlying deeper meaning/universal truth (not a moral) which lies at the moment of climax.
  4. Steps of rising tension towards the climax.
  5. Symbols which change in meaning as the story unfolds.
  6. A resolution with consequences.
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