Three Lessons in Community Storytelling

Over the last few months the King’s Cross Story Palace team have been looking back at the stories we’ve heard, so that we can do them justice when we share them with the world. Understanding the storytelling process, and pushing the limits of how we share stories with the communities we’re working with will also support the Historypin Storybox programme that our team is working on.

When we started on this journey nearly a year ago we knew that we wanted to tell a big story about a specific place. But it’s taken us a while to understand the best way to do that. Since the start of the project, we’ve been listening carefully to the storytellers that we’ve been working with, to make sure that the stories we present are meaningful and relevant.

We’ve made some mistakes, and learned some lessons.

Here are our top three tips for community storytelling:

  • Follow the story to its core

Stories are always selections made from the dizzying chaos of real life. Until you’re seeped in the characters, context and setting of a story, it’s hard to know what to include and what to leave out. Brian Read, the producer of the hit podcast series S Town, suggests that only when you know more about the the story than the people you’re interviewing do you know enough to start editing, curating and showcasing.

Talk to communities until you find a compelling story (you’ll know it when you hear it). Now listen to the people that are implicated in the story. Now join the dots.

  • Less is more

The world is full of stories. Your job is to help your community partners to tell their story in the most powerful way possible. This takes time and patience. Give the stories – and their tellers – the attention they deserve. That way, their stories will stand out, and have the potential to touch the people that hear them. Value quality over quantity. Your partners, audiences and funders will thank you for it.

  • Stand on the shoulders of giants

Humans are storytelling animals. We’ve been at it for as long as we’ve existed, and we’ve accrued some skills along the way. Heed the wisdom of your fore-mothers and fathers:

Narrative structure matters.

If it matters to the teller, it will matter to the listener.

Transformation is powerful.

And of course, ‘kill your darlings, darling’.


Have a listen to Jonathan‘s story to see what we’re talking about.