The Art of the Tale: A Conversation with Steven James

Storytelling is much more than writing. In fact, for most of human history, storytelling has come through the spoken word. How can we get back those oral storytelling roots in modern communication? In The Art of the Tale, storyteller Steven James and speechwriter Tom Morrisey combine their expertise to craft a book all about storytelling in public speaking. Whether you’re a teacher, preacher, business executive, motivational speaker, or just someone who wants to become better at social conversation, there’s something in The Art of the Tale for you. Listen in as Steven James and I talk about the book.

The Conversation | Steven James

This transcript excerpt has been edited for clarity and content. Listen to the full interview at the audio player above or wherever you get your podcasts.

Josh Olds: What am I going to learn when I read this book?

Steven James: I think that one of the things this book approaches a little bit differently and uniquely is the idea of what a story is. A story is not just a list of things that happen. We really unpack the six aspects of all great stories. Basically, the first few are obvious. I’ll say them and you’ll be like, well, of course that seems super obvious, like character. Yeah, a story needs a character. Of course, that seems super obvious. But then also a setting and time and place. Setting is not just the location, but it’s when and where…The next thing a story needs is a struggle. You can have a list of things that happen, but without a struggle, you don’t have a story. You just have an account, a report maybe. You need to struggle to have a story. The fourth is a pursuit where the character wants something, tries to get it, things get in the way, that’s where the struggle comes from.

You can actually have a story that just has those four—character, setting, struggle, pursuit—but it won’t necessarily be a great story. It can be predictable. For a story really be elevated, it needs what I call a pivot. Pivot is where there’s a moment where things you expect them to go in one direction, but they don’t. They change, they alter, into a new direction. But when it happens, you’re like, that totally makes sense…And finally, payoff. Payoff is where if it’s a funny story, we laugh; it’s a heartwarming story, it really impacts us. So it’s not just the same as a theme, but it’s more like the overall impact of the story.

The Book | The Art of the Tale

Unleash the power of storytelling to transform your talks, speeches, and presentations—whether your audience is a boardroom of executives, a classroom of students, or an auditorium full of eager listeners.

Everyone, regardless of their background and training, can improve their storytelling abilities. But what is a story? How can you tell it in a way that delights and informs your listeners? Take a journey into the keys to great storytelling with two of the country’s top experts on story presentation and speech writing.

In The Art of the Tale, expert storytellers Steven James and Tom Morrisey team up and tap into their lifetimes of experience to show you how to prepare stellar presentations, tell stories in your own unique way, adapt your material to different groups of listeners, and gain confidence in your ability as a speaker. In this book, you’ll learn why:

  • practice doesn’t make perfect.
  • you should never tell the same story twice.
  • there is no right way to tell a story.
  • it’s best to avoid memorizing your stories.

You’ll also find helpful hints on:

  • gaining confidence in your ability as a storyteller.
  • connecting with your audience.
  • matching your expectations with those of your listeners.
  • understanding what makes a good story.
  • drawing truth out of stories you wish to tell.
  • crafting and remembering stories.
  • shaping your memories into inspiring stories.

Learn how to tell stories more effectively, lead and teach more creatively, and prepare your message in less time by using this unique resource provided by two of the nation’s premier communicators, who tap into their experience to share a lifetime’s worth of insights and expertise.

The Author | Steven James

Steven James is the critically acclaimed, national bestselling author of sixteen novels. His work has been optioned by ABC Studios and praised by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, the New York Journal of Books, and many others. His pulse-pounding, award-winning thrillers are known for their intricate storylines and insightful explorations of good and evil.  When he’s not working on his next book, he’s either teaching master classes on writing throughout the country, trail running, or sneaking off to catch a matinee.

The Author | Tom Morrisey

Tom Morrisey is a mountaineer, aviator, shipwreck diver, and explorer, who holds a Full Cave certification from the National Speleological society – Cave Diving Section. He has launched, edited or contributed to numerous national publications and is an award-winning adventure travel writer. A popular speaker, he is also active in both youth and prison ministry. Morrisey earned an MFA in creative writing from Bowling Green State University, and his fiction has been featured in numerous anthologies and magazines. His previous novel, Yucatan Deep, was a 2003 finalist for the Christy Award. He and his family live in Orlando, Florida.