Sometimes, what makes for great stories – or viral videos – is a simple thread of “and then” questions being raised, answered, and raised again. Here’s a lesson in storytelling from a hungry dog.
If your readers are asking “and then?” you are well on your way to being a captivating storyteller. Take it from “The Ultimate Dog Tease,” one-and-a-half minutes of hilarity in a YouTube video where a man tells his dog about the food in the fridge that he either ate or gave to the cat! If you’re not already one of the 181 million views, take 90 seconds to get a quick lesson in storytelling from a dog.
As you watch, consider the dog’s perspective being summed up by, “And then?” It’s what the dog is repeatedly conveying: “Tell me more, quick!”
The dog is hanging on every word, propelling the story with mumbled, doggy interjections: “Yeah? The maple kind? Yeah.”
The tease builds.
First, it’s just maple bacon that the human eats. And then it’s steak. And then the stakes rise. The dog owner made a special treat with chicken and cheese and decorated it with… wait for it… cat treats. And then, he gave it to the cat!
The dog yowls and moans each time he’s denied. This is a super part of the effect. The tease evokes such emotion from the dog.
While hoping he’ll get some of this choice meat, his big eyes full of hope, he comes in for a close-up, licking his chops, waiting patiently.
When, disappointed, he really shows it. “Awwwwrrrrgggghhhh!” he wails, in a sweet, long-suffering way that makes him all the more endearing.
There is good reason this clever video went viral. It is a terrific lesson in storytelling.
When you are working on your story, it’s useful to think of it as a long series of “And then?” questions. As in, “What happens next?”
The girl loses her parents. And then? She goes to an orphanage. And then? She finds out those weren’t her real parents and she’s actually a witch. And then?
Each of these “and thens” forms one of the natural units of your story. Each unit should flow, one after the other, connected as smoothly as a stream of water.
Look at your plot. Is it as enticing as the promise of meat is to that dog? Are your readers continually motivated to ask, “And then?”
You want strong reactions from your reader. Think of the dog saying, “You’re kidding me!” when the man admits he ate all the maple bacon himself. His sideways stare is priceless.
When your reader thinks nothing more can happen, that’s when you ramp up the story by a power of ten. And then do it again before you get to the end.
This is the trick of page turners, or the best addictive television series. Something happens, you hold your breath because it’s so startling. You start to breathe again and are overcome with curiosity. Your mind is screaming, “What comes next?”
So, think of your story. Mold its highest level structure with “and then,” then write it down and get it out the door to readers.
Hopefully, huge success with your book is your “and then” as an author. That, and maple bacon.
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