The Key to Great Storytelling

Diane Callahan
11 min readDec 31, 2023
Photo of a journal with a key and the text The Key to Great Storytelling

“For only to a magician is the world forever fluid, infinitely mutable, and eternally new. Only he knows the secret of change, only he knows truly that all things are crouched in eagerness to become something else, and it is from this universal tension that he draws his power.”

These words of wisdom come from The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. Writers are magicians who know that “all things are crouched in eagerness to become something else.”

The cover for The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle on a forest background

The key to great storytelling is change — meaningful change. Readers want to look at the beginning and ending of a story and see that something has happened.

If at the start, a farm boy discovers he’s a prince, it might feel pointless if by the end he returns to his ordinary life with all the same beliefs and relationships. A more intriguing narrative arc could show him deciding to take the crown, marry his childhood sweetheart, and fend off assassination attempts before abdicating the throne. His worldview might morph from blissful ignorance to world-weary cynicism.

A journey has taken place, one that provides insight into our own lives.

The key to get storytelling is CHANGE on background of two keys on old paper

When you ask people what moments transformed them, the answers are similar: receiving that sought-after diploma, falling in love, cradling a newborn, mourning the death of a loved one.

Life’s most transformative moments are when our definition of “normal” changes, rewriting the routine. Satisfying narratives often focus on those moments of change where we learn the most about the characters.

Change need not be dramatic or lasting for the story to be meaningful — it can be barely noticeable, even temporary. It’s the moment a bully reaches down to pet a dog when no one’s looking, or when winter passes into spring.