Looking closer

Everyday life is riddled with unexplained oddities, quirks of human nature and moments of pure absurdity

November is National Novel Writing Month. This annual, internet-based initiative has been running for 16 years and encourages registered participants to write a 50,000 word novel (or the first 50,000 words of a longer novel) within the month of November. Not a day before, not a day after.

This is great encouragement not just for aspiring novelists, but for everyone. The old cliché that everyone has a novel in them does contain some truth, as most clichés do. Storytelling has been around for a long time. From ancient communities gathered around their campfires to swap legends and histories, right through to the digital diaries of modern day bloggers the world over, we humans have always nurtured a deep, almost primal need to tell and listen to stories.

So improving your own storytelling skills certainly has the potential to give you a leg-up in many, many areas of life, both professional and personal. And there are more opportunities now for storytelling than ever before, thanks to the advent of social media.

Good storytelling involves more than just describing a sequence of events. You can improve your storytelling skills by paying attention to things that are a bit more abstract, like the tone, texture, style, exposition and overall shape of the story.

Being a good storyteller also requires you to be observant. Real life stories are happening all around us every moment of the day, but most of us will miss them most of the time if we're staring at our phones or iPads. Look all around you at the subtleties of daily life. Pay attention to what happens in the gaps between the words and the moments – the stories are there, everywhere… not exactly hiding, as they're in plain view. They're just generally overlooked by most of us.

Once you do start to look closer, you'll realise that everyday life is riddled with unexplained oddities, quirks of human nature and moments of pure absurdity. The more of these you notice and absorb, the more intuitive a storyteller you'll become. Tapping into this undercurrent of comedy and tragedy will provide you with a deeper insight into how we humans operate and what really motivates our decisions (it's rarely what we think it is). It will also give you an arsenal of tasty flourishes that can make an ordinary story into a great story. And because you've drawn from life, it'll have a ring of authenticity that's always more interesting than something artificial.

Whether it's a corporate report, a TAFE assignment, a blog entry, Facebook post, a tweet or even just describing your weekend to a friend or colleague, improving your storytelling skills will be no burden to carry. National Novel Writing Month understands this. And although it's given the world some well-known published works like Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants and Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, the objective of National Novel Writing Month is more about enthusiasm, determination and the value of having an actual deadline. And about looking closer.

Image courtesy of SamuelLopes