What is the rhetoric of story?

It’s that moment when you look up from Lord of the Rings, and it hits you, BLIMEY! I’m not in Middle Earth. It’s the feeling when the lights go up after three hours of King Lear and you remember you’re not a tragic hero. It’s the sensation of being so lost in the world or The Avengers that you almost believe you could beat up the baddies like Scarlet Johansson. It’s the thing that we hunger for in story.


Unique among art forms, for the time that a story lasts, it can make us believe that the world, characters and events it shows are as real as the world of our mundane lives.We don’t just read or watch stories, we get inside them and drive them around like alternate realities…which in some senses is exactly what they are. But HOW do stories do this? And, even more important for those of us who create them, how do we make stories that capture this magic?

“A story is a way of structuring information – words, pictures, video or more – that mirrors how our mind models the world around us so that we experience it as almost real.”

~ Damien Walter

As we learn to understand our mind and brain better, cognitive sciences have shown us that stories are more, much more, than idle entertainment. To make sense of the millions of bits of data about our world that our senses generate, we shape them into a story. We place ourselves at the centre of this story, at the heart of a web of relationships, and we focus attention on key moments of change. In a very real sense we are the creator of our own life story.

When we place ourselves in the hands of a skilled storyteller their art, for a few hours at a time, replaces our story with the story they are weaving. Far from being complicated, the immersive qualities of story rely on only a few basic elements. But when we are immersed in story they can be hard to see, just as it’s hard to learn a magician’s tricks by watching them on stage. Great storytellers know them instinctually. They can be learned by trial and error by studying thousands of stories. They’re the rhetoric of story, and understanding them opens a doorway to creating powerful, immersive stories.

There are just a few hours left to join my rhetoric of story course. Join in, and in a series of video lectures to follow at your own pace, we’ll explore the magic of storytelling.

The pre-sale offer for Rhetoric of Story ends on Sunday 12th June.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.


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