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  • Hi, I'm Gina.

  • Welcome to Oxford Online English!

  • In this lesson, you can learn how to tell a story in English.

  • Stories are powerful.

  • When you meet someone new, go to a job interview or take a speaking exam like IELTS, you need

  • to tell stories, whether you realise that's what you're doing or not.

  • Becoming a better storyteller will make you a more convincing speaker.

  • People are attracted to good storiesit's a fundamental part of being human.

  • Learning how to tell better stories can help you become a more effective English speaker,

  • and a better communicator generally.

  • In this class, you'll learn how to build a story, step by step.

  • You'll see three different stories, and you'll see how you can use the same simple

  • ideas in almost any story.

  • If you want to read the stories before the lesson, make sure you're watching this on

  • our website: Oxford Online English dot com.

  • If you're watching on YouTube, you can find a link in the video description.

  • There, you can read the three stories in full.

  • We want you to take part in this lesson.

  • Think of a story you want to tell.

  • As you go through the lesson, you'll hear our stories, but you should also be building

  • your own story.

  • So, think of something funny, scary, interesting or weird that happened to you.

  • Do you have an idea for a story?

  • Then let's begin!

  • A clear story needs to start with some background.

  • Think about basic wh- questions: who, when, where, what?

  • Start your story with one sentence which gives some of this information.

  • For example:

  • It was summer, and I went with some friends to a beach in Crimea which you could only

  • get to by boat.

  • I was travelling in Kyrgyzstan, and I decided to go hiking in the mountains.

  • At university, I shared a flat with three other guys.

  • Keep it simple at the beginning: who, when, where, what?

  • Next, add one or two more sentences to give more background details.

  • You need a balance here: you want to give enough background details to make your story

  • feel real, but you also need to get to the heart of your story quickly.

  • People will lose interest if you don't get to the point.

  • Let's see how you can do this.

  • Look at our first example:

  • It was summer, and I went with some friends to a beach in Crimea which you could only

  • get to by boat.

  • Think: if you heard this, what questions could you ask to get more details?

  • You might ask things like:

  • Who were your friends?

  • Why did you go to this beach?

  • What was the place like?

  • Were there any other people there?

  • Answering these questions gives you details you can add after your opening sentence.

  • For example:

  • People had been going there for years, and there were benches and tables, places to camp,

  • fire places and so on.

  • It was kind of a hippy place, with everyone walking around naked and doing whatever they

  • felt like.

  • Here, we're focusing on one thingthe placebecause it's the most interesting

  • and unusual detail.

  • For a different story, you might focus on different details:

  • We were all good friends, but like lots of guys in that situation, we played a lot of pranks on each other.

  • In this story, the people are more important, so you would give more details about them.

  • Okay: your turn!

  • You need to start your story.

  • Make an opening sentence.

  • Remember: who, when, where, what?

  • Then, add 1-2 sentences giving more background details.

  • Focus on the most important elements in your story.

  • Pause the video and do it now!

  • Write it down if you want.

  • What's next?

  • Big question: what makes a story a story?

  • If I tell you that I went to the shop to buy some bread, and then I came home and ate the

  • bread, is that a story?

  • Not really.

  • If it is, it's not a good one.

  • So, think about it: what makes a story a story?

  • A story needs two things.

  • One: there needs to be a goal.

  • The person or people in the story should want something.

  • Two: there needs to be tension.

  • That means the goal can't be too easy to reach.

  • In this section, let's look at putting a goal in your story.

  • Here's the question: what do the people in your story want?

  • They must want something.

  • This is the heart of your story.

  • If the people in your story don't want anything, then you don't have a story.

  • Let's do an example together: On the last day, we had to catch a train in

  • the evening.

  • Pause the video if you need extra time to read.

  • Here we have a simple goal: we needed to catch our train.

  • Let's do one more: To reach Issyk-Kul lake, which was the end

  • of my journey, I had to cross a mountain pass, almost 4,000m high.

  • What's the goal here?

  • The goal is getting across the mountain pass to the lake.

  • The goal in your story can be something big or something small.

  • You can see in these two examples that we have something very easy and simplecatching

  • a trainand something bigger and more difficultcrossing a 4,000-metre mountain pass on foot.

  • What about your story?

  • What's the goal?

  • What do the people in your story want?

  • Keep this simple.

  • Just add one sentence to your story, setting a goal for you or the other people in your

  • story.

  • Pause the video, write your sentence, then we'll move on to the next part.

  • Ready?

  • Ok, remember that we said there are two things every story needs.

  • What's the second?

  • Every story needs tension.

  • What does that mean?

  • Simply, it means that your goal shouldn't be too easy to reach.

  • Here's a story:

  • There was a monster which liked to eat people.

  • A hero killed the monster.

  • Everyone was safe.

  • The end.

  • Good story?

  • Obviously not!

  • If the goal in your story is too easy, then your story will be very short and boring.

  • There needs to be tension.

  • As they listen to you, people should be thinking: what's going to happen next?

  • Will everything be ok?

  • How are they going to get out of this problem?

  • The goal needs to be difficult.

  • There need to be problems.

  • People need to doubt whether you're going to succeed or fail.

  • This is tension.

  • For example: On the third day, I had to cross a mountain

  • pass, almost 4,000m high.

  • It was so hard, because the air is thin up there and I was carrying a very heavy pack.

  • It seemed to take forever, but finally I got close to the topand then a storm boiled

  • over the ridge and landed right on my head.

  • There was lightning all around me, even below me!

  • The noise was unbelievable.

  • First, you hear how difficult it was, even before the storm hit.

  • Then, the storm arrives.

  • What's going to happen?

  • Did I make it over the pass?

  • Did I get hurt?

  • Let's look at one more example: One weekend, I was going home to visit my

  • parents.

  • I said bye to my flatmates, and told them not to do anything to my room.

  • Don't worry, we won't.

  • Have a good weekend,” they said.

  • I knew they were going to do something, but I couldn't believe what they actually did:

  • This is a very different kind of story, but the structure is the same.

  • I have a goal, which is to visit my parents and come back without my friends doing anything

  • to my room.

  • You also have some tension.

  • You hear sentences like this:

  • I told them not to do anything to my room.

  • I knew they were going to do something.

  • When you hear these, you know they're going to do something to my room, but you don't

  • know what.

  • This is called foreshadowing.

  • You know something bad is going to happen, but you aren't sure exactly what.

  • That's where the tension comes from.

  • What did they actually do?

  • Hopefully, you want to know what happened next.

  • Now, think about your story.

  • How can you add some tension?

  • One way is to add problems or difficulties: things that get between you and your goal.

  • Another way is to use foreshadowing, like our story above.

  • Pause the video and add tension to your story.

  • This is an important part of your story, so think about it carefully.

  • Aim to write 2-3 sentences, and start again when you're done.

  • Okay?

  • Now, you're ready to think about the end of your story.

  • To finish your story, you need to resolve the tension.

  • At this point, the people listening to your story should want to know what comes next.

  • You've created some tension.

  • They aren't sure what's going to happen, but they want to know.

  • So, finishing your story is simple: explain what happened in the end, and whether you

  • (or whoever) reached your goal or not.

  • Let's finish the three stories you've seen in this lesson:

  • Remember that you can pause if you need more time to read or review the story.

  • Let's read the end together.

  • We loaded our stuff onto a kayak and swam almost a kilometre around the cliffs.

  • A naked hippy paddled the kayak, which was piled high with our things and looked like

  • it could sink at any minute.

  • We made it to land, and after several hours of hitchhiking and walking, we caught our

  • train.

  • It was stressful at the time, but looking back now it makes a good story!

  • You can see that the ending does two things.

  • In this story, we have tension: there's a mine in the harbour and we can't leave

  • by boat.

  • How did we solve it?

  • By swimming for a kilometre, with a naked hippy transporting our stuff in an overloaded

  • kayak.

  • Secondly, the ending explains whether we reached our goal or not.

  • In this case, happily, we caught the train!

  • What about our second story?

  • I forgot how tired I was and ran down the slopes to get to safety.

  • I stayed the night lower down and tried again the next day.

  • I made it over the pass, but it was a very frightening experience.

  • Again, the ending resolves the tension—I ran below the storm and tried again the next

  • dayand also explains whether I reached my goal or not.

  • Finally, what did happen to my room at university?

  • They made my room into a jungle!

  • I'm not kidding: there were flowers, plants, three whole trees, jungle animals made from

  • paper, and a 'sounds of the forest' mix playing on my stereo.

  • It took me three hours to clean up, and also I have hay feveran allergy to pollenso

  • I was sneezing and blowing my nose the whole time.

  • For my flatmates, that just made it funnier

  • It's the same pattern: we resolve the tension by answering the question: what did my flatmates

  • do to my room?

  • We also find out whether I reached my goal or not (I didn't).

  • Now you've seen the three stories; can you see what each one has right at the end?

  • Each story ends with a retrospective comment.

  • Retrospective means 'looking back'.

  • A retrospective comment tells people how you feel now about the story, or how other people

  • felt.

  • For example:

  • It was stressful at the time, but looking back now it makes a good story!

  • It was a very frightening experience.

  • For my flatmates, that just made it funnier

  • You don't have to put a retrospective comment at the end of your story, but it's a good

  • way to finish.

  • Most of all, a retrospective comment sounds like an ending.

  • That's useful, especially if you're speaking, because it shows your listener that you've

  • finished speaking.

  • Now, you need to finish your story.

  • Pause the video and write an ending.

  • Remember that you need to do two things: resolve the tension, and explain whether or not you

  • reached your goals.

  • Let's review: to tell a good story, you need to:

  • - Set the scene and give some background information.

  • - Establish a goal for the person or people in your story.

  • - Add some tension, so that people aren't sure what will happen in the end.

  • - Finish the story and add a retrospective comment.

  • Of course, there are other things which are important in a story.

  • Adding interesting details and descriptions can make your story more lifelike.

  • Adding jokes and humour can improve many stories.

  • Giving some background on the people and their personalities can bring the people in your

  • stories to life.

  • But, nothing is more important than structure, and that's what you've seen in this lesson.

  • A story without good structure isn't really a story.

  • Get the structure right first.

  • Maybe you're thinking, “I don't have the vocabulary to tell stories like that.”

  • Not true: I've heard very powerful stories from students who spoke very basic English.

  • Vocabulary doesn't make a good story.

  • Structure and emotion make a good story.

  • Focus on structure and practise what you've learned in this lesson.

  • You can tell great stories in English, too!

  • Do you have a story you'd like to share?

  • Please post it in the comments.