Storyworthy is one of the best books I've read in a long time.

It's told by Matthew Dicks, who won a grand total of 59 story-slams as part of The Moth's monthly competitions. The book is tactical, poignant, and has fundamentally changed the way I see the world.

Each day I now reflect on the "little moments" that are great stories, and I think about what they mean for me as a person.

For this one, I recommend the audiobook. Matthew is a great storyteller, and he does the narration.

A change in the person – all stories should have the main character (e.g. YOU) undergo some fundamental change on the other side. When you think about Pixar, they are masters of this (in that the characters come out a different person).

Always tell your own stories – the stories can be about other people, but they should share your own perspective. Your hopes, fears, and what you changed your mind about. Matthew shares the story of his roommate Benji being a vengeful person... and coming back from a run in the rain and being fundamentally different. Matthew tells the story from his perspective of knowing they'd be friends for a long time.

The dinner table rule – tell a story like you would at a dinner table. It shouldn't be overly rehearsed or dramatized for a bigger audience. Make it intimate, vulnerable, and roughly off-the-cuff.

Homework for life – most people think that you only have a few 'big stories', but really the best way to capture stories is to just get better at noticing them! Instead of watching Netflix at night, sit down and for 5min, record a simple story that happened to you and a date. Matthew does this in an excel spreadsheet with just a few words. He is sure to never miss a day, and it draws out many more stories. As Picasso would say: when artists get together, they ask where you can buy cheap turpentine. Write a lot. Notice even more.

The best stories are small moments – Matthew has a ton of really crazy life experiences (having a gun to his head, put in jail, etc). But the best stories are ones which capture small moments and are relatable to everyone. Looking down at his aging dog and contemplating her death. Revisiting the relationship with his father. His wife calling out that taking away food from his son will be hard for him because he grew up poor. All of these things are minuscule moments in life, but they make the listener think about their own lives in an important way.

A story focuses on just 5 seconds – no matter how long the story, it comes down to a 5-second 'climax' of the person really realizing their transition. In Jurassic Park, it's the main paleontologist realizing that he does actually like kids as he protects them during the night.

Tool: stream-of-consciousness writing – spend 10m writing everything that comes to your head. You should never let the pen (or fingers if on a keyboard) stop moving. If you ever get stuck, start listing colors or numbers or something to continue free association. Don't go too much on a single idea.

Tool: first, last, best, worst – a simple tool to elicit good stories is to take a prompt (e.g. kiss, car, etc), and then note the "first", "last", "best", and "worst" you can think of related to that prompt. It's a very simple tool that allows you to draw upon interesting stories

End with the 5 seconds, start with the opposite. Try and start as close as possible to the end – if your story ends with a moment of transformation, you want the start to be the opposite of that transformation. Ideally it should be as close as possible to it, cut out any superfluous story that starts with it. In the example story, Matt starts out thinking he knows what true loneliness feels like, but then discovers he has no idea.

Stakes – stakes are the reason your audience keeps listening. The reason they want to find out what happens next! It's the snakes + Nazis in Indiana Jones, the Dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. All stories have to include some stakes that make the audience ask themselves "what happens next". There are 5 key techniques for introducing stakes... (all of which are told through the example story of having a flat tire, asking for money from a gas station, going to an old man's home pretending Matt is raising money for charity)

  • The Elephant – introduce some 'elephant in the room' that everyone in the audience is aware of. This is the thing that the protagonist will have to overcome. Choosing the right elephant is important, it lets your audience predict where the story will go. You want to try and get to it as early as possible in a story, typically in the first minute or two. Otherwise the audience won't know where the story is going. Often the best stories change the color of the elephant, they create a moment of surprise in the listeners mind... where they thought the story would go one way but it actually went another. In the example, Matt starts out as an 'escape from Vermont' story, but changes the color to see actual loneliness. He also calls these "laugh, laugh, cry" stories which is a theme I've noticed. Start with some humor, some humor, and then switch to a really poignant moment.
  • The Backpack – tell the audience the plan ahead of time. You give them a 'backpack' and set them up with expectation. In the example story, this is when Matt sits in his car, crafting his plan to go into the gas station. In Ocean's 11, this is the entire 'crafting of the plan'. If you are disappointed, the audience will feel your disappointment because your plan is now their plan.
  • Breadcrumbs – giving users details about what might happen, hinting at what comes next. Referencing the McDonalds uniform in the back seat.
  • Hourglass – at the moment in a story right before the most important 5 seconds... slow everything down. Go into slightly irrelevant details. Make the listener question: "what on earth will happen next?" In the example charity story, it's describing all the ins and outs of the McDonalds uniform while standing at the door.
  • Crystal ball – imagining a proposed future that won't come true. "He was going to call the police and report me for impersonating a charity."

Lies – as a storyteller, you are going to have to shape the truth. The rules are: only do this for the benefit of the audience, not yourself. Do not add or invent anything. Your memory is a bit imperfect anyway, so accept that there is some latent drift. This last part helped me become a little more comfortable with this section, though it still feels weird to 'change the story'. My strong default is to try and represent the truth as much as possible, but there's a difference between 'misrepresenting what happened' and making it easier for the listener to understand.

  • Lies of omission – you remove some detail because it isn't really that relevant to the story. This happens most with people, remove irrelevant people who don't add to the story in any meaningful way.
  • Lies of compression – you move multiple days into one. Ocean's 11 moves 6mo of planning into a tight progression.
  • Lies of progression – you change the order (my take, generally try not to do this, but only if it doesn't effect the outcome of the story)

A movie of the mind – the number one tool you can use to ground your story is include a location. That instantly grounds the listener and gives them something to picture. They will fill in a bunch of extra details that are frankly irrelevant, but the important part is that you give them something to start with. There's also an interesting technique here where you can strategically omit details that you want the audience to imagine. Especially do this when they will imagine them more vividly than you could easily describe. Move to the present tense when you want them 'close'. The past tense when you want them distanced.

Stories should meander like a knife's edge – instead of using "and" to string together words, you want to keep the audience surprised and guessing. "But" and "therefore" are better, because they help keep the audience on their toes.

Emphasize SURPRISE – add little bits of 'camouflage' to earlier details, often including them for humor. Include them in a list. Don't start with the thesis, end with it to keep the audience guessing. Use words that often don't really fit together.

Using humor – try and work it in in the first 30s, this will help put both you and your audience at ease. You don't need to keep your audience laughing all the time, instead try and make them feel some way at choice moments. Let them 'breathe' by including one funny line after another. Example in the car crash story: Kid: "Dude you're fucked". It was the most accurate medical assessment I would receive that day.

Two strategies for humor: milk jugs and baseballs, babies and blenders – it's hard to teach people to be funny, but there are two key techniques you can use. Milk jugs and baseballs: imagine a carnival game where you throw a baseball at a bunch of milk jugs. You feel much more fulfilled knocking down all the milk jugs after a bunch of them have been built up. The second technique is to combine two words or ideas that rarely go together ("my grandma was a sadist"). You can exaggerate when everyone knows it's exaggeration ("the car was about the size of a box of pop tarts").

Stay in the present – when possible, try and tell stories happening in the present tense. This will bring the listener in to be 'right on that train car next to you'. It will help you imagine the moment and discover that it's really there. There's a flip side here; if you want to provide more 'distance' for the listener, move the current tense back to the past. As someone who's "default" is telling stories in the past tense, this feels incredibly relevant.

Great stories should be about one thing – instead of trying to wedge two concepts into a single story, make it about one single thing. The five second moment should highlight a particular change. And the beginning should start with the opposite. That means you can only have one single part which is the message of the story.

Downplay yourself as the hero – it's easy to tell the story as if you are the hero. This won't really make you relatable to audiences. Instead it's okay highlight your faults or times that you screwed up as the protagonist. Doing so won't remove any of the impact with your story.

Don't always end with resolution – sometimes when you tell a story, it's tempting to end with the resolution. DONT do this. The stories that really stick with you are often unresolved in a big way. They end with parts of that five second moment, and cut away all the rest.

Meta: there's an interesting interplay here around what the audience imagines vs what you tell them. You want them to picture all details which aren't super important to the story, while you fill in the most relevant ones which are key to the story.