Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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 stories—it'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 thing—the place—because 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 simple—catching a train—and something bigger and more difficult—crossing 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 top… and 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.