Rules Of Storytelling In The Digital Age

Mark Twain quotes from writers
Source: Mark Twain House

“I do not claim that I can tell a story as it ought to be told. I only claim to know how a story ought to be told, for I have been almost daily in the company of the most expert story-tellers for many years.” – Mark Twain

Storytelling is an art form.  The form may change with the shift of technology, but a good story will always follow certain “rules”.

We’ve adapted those rules to the age of digital storytelling, and keeping in mind our friend Mark’s words, here are our recommendations….

1. Stick with a structure.  Stories have a beginning, middle and an end. This doesn’t change, no matter what the story or format.

Take your time with each piece.  Don’t phone in the ending because you’ve already made your point in the middle.  Instead, go out with a bang and drive your point home.  But don’t forget to set your scene and build a case as well.  If you want your audience to stick around to the end, you have to get them invested in your story.

2. Make your characters believable.  The best heroes have flaws and the scariest villans always make you feel just a little bit of empathy.

Whether you’re writing the next great American novel or bios for your company’s website – go that extra mile to make your characters human.  It will make it easier for your audience to understand them, see things from their perspective and maybe even like them.

3. Show, don’t tell.  In the digital age, this has a few implications.

We know images win, so work to incorporate those into your story, but don’t use them as a crutch.  Paint your readers a picture with your words.  Tell them how things smelled, tasted, felt and choose your words wisely.  For example, don’t tell your newsletter readers that you’ve achieved a major milestone, create an image showing this turning point and thank them for their role in making history by helping you reach this breakthrough.

It is important that the words themselves are just as good as the story you’re trying to tell.  You aren’t thirsty, you’re parched.  Your company didn’t exceed estimates, it blew past the goals  and made history.  Your story only has a few seconds to grab someone’s attention, make sure you don’t lose your audience because you chose boring words.

4. Teach your audience.  From Aesop’s fables to Pixar movies, the best stories always teach us something.

Content and client relationshipYou’ve gone to great lengths to cut through all the noise and you finally got your audience’s attention.  Make sure your story enhances their lives by teaching them something about life, the world, or even themselves.

Last but definitely not least…

5. Have fun.  It’s one thing to be a tortured writer (hello Edgar Allen Poe…) but it is another to feel like writing IS torture.

If you don’t enjoy storytelling, then don’t do it.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still invest in storytelling.  Content for all intents and purposes IS storytelling and the numbers don’t lie – it is an overwhelmingly effective way to connect with others.  Even if it isn’t your forte, find someone who does love storytelling and get them to tell your story.  Consider it ghost writing for the digital age.

Looking for someone to tell your story?  Let us know and we can connect you with some of our favorite storytellers.

Love storytelling but feeling burnt out?  Try some of our favorite inspiring quotes from writers or our tips for beating writers block.


  1. Riccardo says

    As MP advisor (and ghost-writer) I deem these rules could be easily applied to political speeches.
    Congrats, Cate, I found this article very interesting.


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