Want to learn how to improve your creative storytelling skills for more engaging writing and better blog posts?
In this special feature episode, I interview podcaster and live storyteller Adrien Behn of The Strangers Abroad Podcast.
She’ll be sharing:
- What a story is
- Her unique creative storytelling process and practice (including how she gets into a flow state to write!)
- Creative ways to tell a story, write better blog posts, and create quality travel blog content — which you can then add to your blog post planner template
- How to “murder your darlings” (an important writing technique!)
- How to repurpose long-form stories in a blog writing format for social media
- Some powerful creative writing exercises and prompts
- And more!
Basically, if you’re interested in improving your storytelling and captivating an audience, you won’t want to miss this episode!
Improve Your Creative Storytelling Skills For More Engaging Writing – Podcast Episode Audio
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How To Tell Better Stories, Write Better Blog Posts & Create Quality Content [Video]
Prefer to learn about storytelling through video?
Here is the livestream interview replay:
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Improve Your Creative Storytelling Skills For More Engaging Writing – Episode Transcript
This transcript was created with the help of automation software. I’ve tried to go in and add text where the software missed words and information, so some sections may not be 100% word-for-word what was said in the video interview.
Bolded & larger heading lines are Jessie, while the typical paragraph font is Adrien.
When I think of somebody who is a storyteller, I immediately think of Adrien Behn, who I am so excited to interview for this episode of The Profitable Travel Blogger Podcast.
Q: Adrien, can you share more about yourself and your storytelling experience?
I’m excited to be here! I’m a storyteller of multiple mediums. I write for the written word, I podcast and then I do live storytelling.
Basically I take true stories from my life — typically focused on travel, but not always — and I reformat them into different mediums.
By the way, all three of those offer a really wonderful way to have a holistic understanding of storytelling. Once I choose my medium I adjust my voice for it, because the way that I would tell the same story in a blog post versus a narrative podcast episode versus a live storytelling event is completely different.
But I love all three. They’re like my children — I can’t choose which one I love more.Want to learn how to #TellBetterStories? This episode of #TPTBPodcast shares powerful tips and tactics for more engaging writing, developing a creative #storytelling process, and more!
I really started getting into storytelling through my podcast, Strangers Abroad, where I interview strangers that I meet while traveling. And then I kind of sandwich each episode with a personal story of my own as to where I’m at and what am I experiencing.
I’m currently working on the second season of my podcast and the format is a little bit different, but it’s very, very storytelling based.
Q: Amazing! Now let’s dive into the topic of actually improving your storytelling. To start, what is a story?
It’s really interesting because storytelling is fundamentally what makes us human. And yet many people don’t know how to do it; however, when we hear stories, we’re addicted to them.
That’s why the movie industry, the book industry, podcasts and all of these storytelling platforms are massive because we are addicted to this thing that humans have created on our own basically.
Our ability to tell stories is really what separates us from animals.
In terms of what a story is, it’s a series of events where the stakes are raised. There’s a climactic point and then a moment of change after it’s all happened, so keep this in mind as you consider story writing topics.
Now there are a few different storytelling structures that different writers or teachers follow. I would say the most common one is called The Hero’s Journey, which is where an individual starts off in their regular world and then there’s a call to action.
Something has to happen. They need something or they need to rescue someone or they need to go find something.
And that journey to find this thing brings us to the climax.
Then, at the end, they return back to their world, but changed.
Now I have a lot of feelings on the does the protagonists have to be changed, but that’s the typical storytelling arc.
A storytelling isn’t just a list, but a series of events. For instance, if you say “I went to the store, I couldn’t find sauerkraut, I came back home.” That’s a series of events without feelings.
But if I said “I went to the store as I had this insane craving for sauerkraut because I was missing my grandfather. I just wanted to taste a little bit of nostalgia. And then I got to the grocery store and I was crestfallen because I couldn’t find any sauerkraut anywhere, and that’s all I really wanted.”
I just made that up on the spot, but hopefully you get my point. A story is a series of events with feelings embedded within and there’s a moment of change at the end.
Q: Touching on something you said earlier, do you feel there doesn’t need to be a big change in the protagonist for a story to take place?
I’ve argued with a fair amount of storytellers about this. I believe that there are sometimes stories we tell where you get to the end and you don’t necessarily feel different.
What I think is really interesting with this though, is if you don’t feel different, analyze why you don’t think that you are different.
Because I think that at the end of the day there is ultimately change, but it’s not always this crazy “Phoenix out of the ashes” kind of transformation.Opinion? Do you think there needs to be significant change for a #storyteller to share a great #story? This episode of #TPTBPodcast offers one perspective!
But the person I woke up today is very different than the person I’ll be when I go to sleep because I’ve shed skin cells and grown new ones and I’ve had new conversations and I’ve read different things.
It’s more about analyzing the little changes which are much harder to see as we consider possible story writing topics.
I don’t think a story needs to be this crazy thing. It can literally be about eating salmon.
Q: I love that! Actually, in my past photography training my instructor assigned us this exercise to take a mundane object, like a water bottle, and photograph it 10 times, then 20 times, then 30 times. Do you think something like this could be used as a storytelling exercise, for instance, having to make eating salmon into a captivating story?
Totally! I focus on more memoir writing, but I read a lot of fiction books because I think that the way that fiction is written can be manipulated into memoir as well because memoir is not necessarily fact-based off of memory, which can be made dated; you know, it can be forgotten, changed, rewritten, it’s malleable.
There are a lot of writing prompts and creative writing exercises that I use that are designed for fiction that you can absolutely use for storytelling. For instance, write the story about dinner, but from the perspective of your cup. There are so many creative ways to tell a story!
Q: Where do you find writing prompts and creative writing exercises?
I usually make up my own, though one book that I found really helpful is called The 3 AM Epiphany (affiliate link). And it’s all about this feeling. My partner, who is also a storyteller, and I talk about it all the time, how at night there is this magic creativity that kind of comes bubbling up to the surface.
And the 3am epiphany kind of touches upon that and then gives a ton of writing prompts.
I find that my best writing is when I’m just a little sleepy. Maybe I’m getting on a 6am flight somewhere and I’m sitting on the subway and there’s something about not being totally there that allows my brain to just relax and make different connections that it wouldn’t normally.
Maybe it’s also a little less judgment. You’re not thinking so much about, “Oh this is bad or this is weird.”
Going back to writing prompts, a lot of storytelling shows are based around a theme that you’re given.
So if, say, the theme is ghosts, it doesn’t have to be like “I see a woman standing in my kitchen and she’s not supposed to be there. She’s translucent.”
It could be being ghosted or something else; you can interpret it however you want.
Writing based around a theme is really interesting.'My best #writing is when I'm just a little sleepy. There's something about not being totally there that allows my brain to relax and make different connections it wouldn't normally.' #storytelling
And again, because writing for the page and a podcast and the stage are all different, the voices used will be different from each other.
For instance, I can manipulate audio. I think that I can get the audience more into my thoughts and feelings in a way that I can’t do on the stage, and I can use soundscape or music to really emphasize that.
Whereas with the page, it’s only words and I have to be able to convey that same powerful emotion or message with just how I’m typing, you know?
Then onstage I can use my body and movements.
Q: So if someone is writing a story, how can they tell if it’s actually a good story?
Again, a good storyteller can make eating salmon sound interesting. It’s all on how you tell it.
I find that the way to convey a really great story is to give it a structure:
- rising accent
- falling action
- and then some type of resolution
That’s a story.
If you say just a sentence like “Oh, this one time my Grandma Danko made the salmon so terrible she buried it in the backyard”; that’s funny and it’s cute, but it’s not a story.
In my opinion, storytelling is basically a form of telepathy. I will never know what is going on in your head, but you telling me a story and you telling me what you were thinking and what you were feeling is the closest that I’m going to get.
Q: So you touched on storytelling structure quite a bit. Do you feel you have anything else to add to that kind of idea of constructing the story?
I would say that this most powerful tool that you can use with storytelling is vulnerability and just being as honest about your feelings as possible.
Because when we’re vulnerable and we’re honest about what we’re really feeling, it gives other people permission to feel the things that they’re feeling.
We don’t always feel good things and they’re really scary. But I think that storytelling is a way for you to take control of it and be like, “Yes, I feel these feelings, but they don’t own me. I am not all of the emotional baggage that I carry around every single day.”
The more vulnerable you are, the better because you never want to adjust how you were thinking and feeling based on what you want others to think about.'Honestly, I like the #stories where I'm not the hero...because that kind of makes other people feel better about their own experiences.' - Adrien Behn on #TPTBPodcast about #storytelling
Honestly, I like the stories where I’m not the hero; where I’m messing up over and over again and I’m being kind of a jerk because that kind of makes other people feel better about their own experiences.
Never augment your thoughts and your feelings. Tell the truth. People want that. We’re starved for the truth.
Q: Absolutely. Now you had mentioned something to me previously about “murdering your darlings.” What is that and how do you do it?
To “murder your darlings” happens during the writing process. Sometimes I will say, “Okay, I know I want to convey this and I’ll write three different sentences,” but then I love them all.
However, you can’t put all of them in because you’re just regurgitating the same thing. And when you’re trying to convey a message, you only want to say things once if they really need to be said.
“Murdering your darlings” is killing two of the sentences and being okay with it. It’s a way for you to not get completely attached to your writing.
And I love nothing more than when I give someone a piece that I’ve worked on — either in audio or in writing — and they tear it to pieces and they show me things that I couldn’t have seen before. This whole writing tactic is all about non-attachment for the sake of the greater piece.
I don’t technically kill sentences I love. I lock them up somewhere else. Actually, I have lists of notes in Evernote that I never delete because if I’m really into a sentence, maybe it just hasn’t found its place yet.
Q: Now I’m curious. You talked about getting rid of sentences, but what about entire pieces? Do you find sometimes that you spend hours working on a whole podcast script or a blog post idea, and then you feel like it doesn’t work and you get rid of it?
I did that the other day. I was really stuck on a podcast script that had an episode quickly coming up. I wrote it last Friday and it was bad. And I knew it.
But you know what?
I think that I needed to just kind of have a morning of word vomiting and getting it out in order to have the epiphany that I had Sunday morning.What do you do when #WritersBlock strikes? In this episode of #TPTBPodcast, one #storyteller shares her process for getting into a creative flow state.
On Friday I felt super blocked and I think it was because I was writing about a story when I was in my teens, so it took me longer to get back to that place emotionally to remember all the details that the first two hours were just me, clicking along and just trying to get back there.
But then on Saturday, I gave myself a break. By the way, I don’t do work on Saturdays and that’s important; it’s part of my creative storytelling process and practice.
And then I talked it out with my partner a little bit. And then Sunday morning it just came to me. I felt a faucet that had been turned on and the story just flew out of me.
I didn’t use anything from the piece that I wrote on Friday and I’m okay with that because sometimes you just need to get it out of your system to ultimately create quality content.
Q: Do you feel like in your head you had a deadline, so you were trying to force the story to be timely? And do you feel like for your process, is it more important to sometimes forget the deadline if you need more time to write your story?
That episode I was just talking about actually should have come out today, but I’m editing the whole thing right now.
By giving myself a little bit more time, I found many more insights as well as sentences that needed to be there. I’d rather it be spectacular and worth the wait then for me to put something that’s just okay out. That would be embarrassing.
As long as you don’t have people really waiting on you then, yeah, give yourself another day if you need it.
Q: Do you have any advice for improving your writing?
Write every day! This is an essential part of my creative storytelling process and practice, as it’s the only way to find your voice.
I mean, I look back at stories that I wrote a year or two ago and it is so different now because now it’s almost a workout routine that I do every day, except Saturdays. It is a muscle that you have to work at every single day.Tip: If you want to become a better writer, #write every single day. It's the best way to find your voice. #TPTBPodcast #Storytelling
The other thing that you should do:
You have to read a lot of other literature. Personally, I have a lot of people that I read where it’s like I love their voice. I love what they’re doing here and I feel very inspired by it.
I will try to consume and keep tabs on the people whose work I really love or I find that my work is very similar to theirs. You want to be able to kind of take the temperature.
Q: Do you feel with that have you’ve ever gotten into the sort of comparison and competition mindset where you’re following someone for inspiration but then you’re sort of getting into a more envious mindset?
I feel when I was younger doubt weighed really heavy on my podcasting process because I would criticize myself, like, “Oh, this audio quality isn’t great. I don’t really know what I’m doing.”
But the more that you practice storytelling — and I don’t know if it’s pride or just feeling more comfortable — but that doubt kind of went away. It doesn’t bother me anymore because I feel I know what my voice is and I know how my voice stands in the chorus of other people who are doing very similar things.
I mean, when it comes to the comparison thing I will sometimes dip into the sort of, “Oh, I wish I got a book deal or I want a Netflix special.” That happens. But I also know that everyone I admire was once in my position and I need to go through what I’m going through in order to get those things.
I just think of it more as part of the process and, if anything, it fuels me more. These things become goals as I get into a growth mindset for success.
Q: Now, I know from being friends with you that you have a very specific creative writing process. You’ve kind of touched on it a bit, but can you share a bit more about what this process is, what it looks like, and why it works?
Creativity is a wild wind that is very hard to domesticate, but I guess you don’t domesticate her.
I’ve found that there are certain times where I am more creative than others. Personally, I’ve found that I’m most creative in the morning.
And I’ve found a series of things that help me get into a state of flow during my creative writing process, which is when you’re kind of at your peak creativity.
For instance, the first thing I do is I wake up and I exercise. For me running is the best way to click myself into this writing mode. On days that I run I definitely have bigger writing projects.
Then I meditate, shower, make breakfast and then I do morning pages — which is just a very cathartic process of writing down all your thoughts; all your frustrations. Maybe you write down the weird dream you had last night, or a to-do list. The point is to just get all of the gunk out of your brain.
It’s like stretching, as it warms you up to get into the writing process.
A lot of times my notes start with this — all my feelings — and then it just naturally goes into the piece I have to write on that day. I start getting all my clunky notes out and then I get into full gear.
Now, I would say the number one most important thing about this entire process is that I don’t talk to anyone. I don’t check my phone, I don’t check email, I don’t talk to the people that I live with.
How diva is that?
But it’s worth it, so I don’t care. Fortunately, everybody with the exception of my father is really, really cool with it.This storyteller has a unique process for getting into a creative #FlowState and overcoming #WritersBlock. Learn more in this episode of #TPTBPodcast!
There is something about conserving that energy and giving it only to myself that makes my writing super. I wake up with enough bees in my brain, and I don’t need more thoughts from the outside world to interrupt me.
On an ideal day, I wouldn’t really talk to somebody until I maybe 3pm or 4pm, when I’ll get all of my menial tasks done.
But I will say there is a weird caveat. I think it goes back to the nighttime creativity thing. I actually work on my live storytelling at night because I am more social and I want to be more physical; more animated. And there’s something about, again, being a little sleepy that makes me a better joke writer.
Q: Do you have any advice for people for when they get stuck in an uncreative rut or they feel writer’s block coming on? What strategies or tips would you give someone?
Many times when I’m struggling with a sentence and I want to work on it on my own, I tend to fall into the camp of over-complicating things.
To help, I’ll just write out exactly what happened in four sentences. And from there it’s like, “Okay, I see it” and then I’m able to kind of flesh it out more and put on the bells and whistles.
Noticing when you’re over-complicating things is something that I’ve struggled with and then simplifying it to its bare bones is what I’ve done to fix that.
I’m actually a creative extrovert, although I need deep introversion to work through a larger story or I really need to talk stuff out with people. I have a handful of people that I will talk to and once I’m talking it out somehow my brain synapses shoot different ways and I can just kind of see it better.
And I have people in my life who know my voice and I respect their opinion and they’re not going to offend me honest feedback.
Also, when it comes finding creative ways to tell a story, sometimes you need to let a piece breathe and you need to know when to step away and think about something else, like I did with the podcast episode I mentioned earlier.
Q: And then what is your strategy for taking stories that you might share on in a blog writing format or a podcast episode — where you have a lot of space and time to create them, like a whole page or an hour of air time — and then paring it down for social media?
I think that when it comes to taking a piece from a blog writing format to a social media format, I whittle it down into the main storytelling steps:
- What’s the information?
- What’s the inciting incident?
- Rising action?
- Falling action?
I’ll often go through my script and just select what works and adjust my voice a bit, or re-write something if it helps me to better create quality content.
And by the way, having a template like the above can help you learn how to enjoy social media instead of agonizing over it!
Q: Storytelling is a great technique to use for selling, for instance, when a blogger might be promoting a product they’ve created or the product of an affiliate partner. Do you have any advice for bloggers or anyone who wants to pair storytelling with selling effectively?
It is still very feelings- and emotions-based and emotionally based, so consider the resolution of the product.
A good salesperson identifies their audience’s pain points and plays into them. For instance, they might say something like “Aren’t you tired of doing X, Y, and Z, and wouldn’t it be great if you had X, Y and Z? My product is the thing that can help.”
And I mean, we’ve all seen commercials that have brought us to tears. I mean, put on a Sarah McLaughlin song and I’m weeping, you know?In this episode of #TPTBPodcast, we're sharing how to #TellBetterStories across all formats -- blog posts, podcasts, live #storytelling, social media, and more!
I think that good salespeople are actually just storytellers. They’re just selling a product at the end of it.
Honestly, I’ve even been hooked into giving somebody my email because they’ve identified my personal pain points well.
Jessie’s Bonus Note: Yes! When it comes to email marketing for bloggers I personally love storytelling and sales emails and I’ll usually think about a benefit of a product and then create a personal story of how this strategy or the solution has helped me. Sort of a before and after story.
Alright, now I hope you enjoyed this episode on how to improve your creative writing skills for more engaging writing.
I hope you feel inspired and empowered to go work on your storytelling skills, find creative ways to tell a story, and maybe even pinpoint your own creative writing process.
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