Storytelling Tips

Storytelling Tips

To help get you started or keep you going along the way, Nicole Darr, Program Manger of the Involved Consumer Action Network in PA (ICAN), Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, has created a list of helpful tips for writing your story.

Be authentic. This is your story, so let your own voice come through! And remember that all these tips are just suggestions. If you have a different way of telling your story, that’s fine!

Structure your writing. Good stories have a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning should grab readers’ attention. The beginning should also let readers know the topic of the story. The middle should include some conflict or struggles. In the end, the conflict gets resolved.

Use the I’m The Evidence Campaign values to guide your writing. The campaign values are: giving, believing, connecting, inspiring hope, encouraging, and being the example. Pick one value and just write a story about that.

Pick and choose what to write about. You only have 500 words to tell this story—not enough for a detailed life history. It’s okay to pick one small part of your story.

Still feeling stuck? Here are some questions that can help you in writing a recovery story:

  • What were some of the early signs you were struggling?
  • What was life like for you at your lowest?
  • What helped you move from that low point to where you are now? What did you do? Who helped you? How did they help? How did one of the I’m The Evidence values (giving, believing, connecting, inspiring hope, encouraging, and being the example) help change your life?
  • What did you learn from going through your struggles? What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about recovery? What strengths did you find in yourself? What new knowledge did you gain?
  • What is your life like now? How is your life better now than it used to be?

Use paragraphs. Paragraphs make your story easier to read. A good paragraph has one main sentence. This is the topic sentence—it tells people what the paragraph is about. Then it has a few more sentences that tell more about the topic. A good paragraph usually has 3-5 sentences in it.

Use good punctuation and capital letters. Start sentences with capital letters. End sentences with periods, question marks, or exclamation points.

Be concise. Short words are better than long words. Short sentences are better than long sentences.

Paint a picture with your words. Yes, you want to be concise. But it’s worth including some description in your story. This makes your story interesting. Use language that appeals to the senses. The five senses are sight, taste, touch, sound, and smell. Here’s an example:

  • Not descriptive: The doctor diagnosed me with bipolar disorder.
  • Descriptive: The doctor clicked his pen and cleared his throat. Then he scribbled a diagnosis in my chart: bipolar.

Show, don’t tell. (This ties into painting a picture with your words.) Make sure there is action in your story. It’s better to show how you felt about something than to simply tell. Here’s an example:

  • Telling: I felt sad and hopeless.
  • Showing: I cried every night.

Use the first-person point-of-view (“I” statements). For example, if you are writing about yourself, say “I learned that recovery is possible because…”

Use active voice. (Avoid passive voice.) Active voice is when the subject is at the beginning of the sentence. Active voice makes your writing more exciting. It also keeps your writing concise. Here’s an example:

  • Passive voice: Hope was given to me by my friends.
  • Active voice: My friends gave me hope.

Keep it upbeat. It’s okay to include some hard stuff. All good stories have conflict. But also include how you overcame your struggles. Include what you’ve learned, what you’ve achieved, or how your life is better now. This is, after all, an inspirational story about recovery!

Write your story first on a computer (for example, in a Microsoft Word document). That way you can write it, edit it, check your spelling, and revise it. Then, when you’re ready, you can copy and paste your story into the form on the website.

Have fun!


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