I was recently talking with my co-workers about what it is to tell a story. While there are many components of creating, executing and concluding a story successfully, there was one thing that we all explored.
I asked everyone, “What makes a ghost story interesting?”
Think about it. It is the stuff of opinions, theories, beliefs, and emotions. People either chose to seek them out or deny them entirely.
So, what makes them so interesting?
Solving the Puzzle
I would like to think that one ingredient is that the story itself makes us ask questions. Whether we believe the story or not, as the listener we are seeking answers to questions that may not necessarily be answered at the end of the tale. “How did they die?” “How are they still here?” “Why are they still here?” “Why did the ghost reach out that way?” “Is the ghost still here among us?”
When we as the audience ask questions, we are engaged and invested in the story unfolding before us. We are constructing a puzzle in our mind palace and with each new piece presented to us, we process it and insert it in to the main picture with the goal to understand the story as a whole. When pieces go missing, sure we have a general idea of the whole picture, but man how satisfying is it when all the pieces click together. Boom. Solved the puzzle. It’s a capybara. Nice.
A Game of Hunger
Letting the viewers hunger for the answers to their questions is a perfect explanation on why commercials pop up when they do and why those without DVR will sit through those commercials. They have questions that need answers. An excellent example is the television show LOST. Holy smokes was that show riddled with questions needing answers. The answers certainly weren’t spoon-fed to us which made it all the more enticing. The mystery had to be worked for; the structure was unpredictable, the twists came and went. It left the audience frustrated that they had to wait a whole week, sometimes months, to resolve a question they were left to contemplate during that time.
Granted, I still have questions about that show. I watched it though.
Anyway, this can be applied to many stories, movies, television shows, books, etc.
As a storyteller, you should engage your audience by giving them questions to mark in your story. Even if it means they challenge the credibility of your characters, your structure, your moral, the reason of your story.
It means they are focused and hooked to your world.
It means that they want to work to get to the end.
It means that the viewer has opened their mind to the dots that need connecting.
It means you are responsible for delivering that world to them.
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