Episode 147

Why Holding Back Can Enhance Your Storytelling

I’m in a law class at Pepperdine, studying for my MBA. In our first assignment, we’re supposed to take this unbelievable amount of text and turn it into an outline using a very specific structure and methodology.

I’m thinking, “Why do we need to outline? I just read all of this text and highlighted certain sections of it in detail. It’s fine. Plus, It seems like a waste of time. And aren’t all outlines the same anyway? Why is structure so important?” 

I begrudgingly do the assignment and turn it in. 

Then we get our next assignment… more outlining! Next assignment? Alas more outlining again! 

By the middle of the semester, something dawns on me: I start to realize that I’m looking at paragraphs of text completely differently. I can pinpoint what matters most even faster. 

At the end of the semester… I am an outlining Ninja. 

This skill that I learned in my Graduate Studies has turned out to be a tool that I use to this very day. 

Every time I read any block of text I can’t help but condense it down to its most essential elements which has definitely helped influence my path of specializing and Short Form Communications. I love to take complex things and condense them down to their most essential elements, especially in storytelling. 

The elements we use in stories really matter–to the listener, to the memories we can create in the minds of our listener, and to the integrity of the story. Michael Stinson has an incredible career exploring and teaching the cinematic art of storytelling, in addition to many other forms. And today on the Storytelling School Podcast, he’s here to talk about how stories bind the world, share the tools he uses to explain storytelling, reveal what keep’s an audience engaged, and tell us:

How can experiencing different cultures influence your storytelling? Why is it a mistake to tell everything in your story? What’s the best way to create suspense, and what other tools are essential for storytelling? And how are cinematic journeys like cathartic, storytelling labyrinths for the audience?

What you will learn in this episode:

  • How you can craft the most effective personal narrative to tell others
  • Why suspense is so effective for audience engagement (and how it differs from surprise)
  • What three flavors of conflict you can choose in your story

Who is Michael Stinson?

Michael Stinson is the professor of Film and Media Studies at Santa Barbara City College where he has taught courses in film studies, film production, screenwriting, film editing, cinematography, and directing for over two decades. He is also the author of Labyrinth of Light: A Journey Into Cinema and has co-directed the 10-10-10 filmmaking and screenwriting competition at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival for the past 20 years. 

Prior to film school, Michael spent a decade abroad as a photojournalist based in Europe and the Far East. He worked for five years as a screenwriter for the Hollywood studios after earning a Master’s degree in Film and Television from UCLA. Then, he began teaching at the University of California, Santa Cruz and has taught courses in film and media at the University of Rome, New School University, and Los Angeles Film School. 

Michael is a Member Emeritus of the Writers Guild of America, Society of American Travel Writers, and PEN America. Currently, he directs international film programs in Rome, Paris, and Tokyo. Residing in Santa Barbara, California, he also now divides his time between a Craftsman bungalow built by the town barber in 1906 and a Cheoy Lee sailboat moored in the harbor.

Want to take your storytelling skills to the next level?

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The Proven 5-step process to captivate any audience


my proven 5-step process for short-form storytelling that you can apply to your stories forever


and craft your own Spotlight Story that you can use in a plethora of scenarios


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...and so much more!

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The best storytellers are memorable for a reason.

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