The Four Sentence Story
The Four Sentence Story is a memory pattern that can be used for preaching, teaching, and storytelling without notes. Memorize four sentences and then watch your story unfold.
The Four Sentence Story
Great stories area the ones that can be told time and again without ever getting old. Every story can be broken down into four parts: The setting, the tension, the resolution, and a through line. Each of these four parts brings something different to the story that makes each story unique.
If you are a storyteller, a preacher, a teacher, or some sort of public communicator, you can use these four parts to memorize a four sentence story that you unfold for your listener. Draw them in by setting the story up. Know the tension you want to resolve for your audience. And leave them with a through line that influences their lives. Most of all, leave them with a four sentence story that they can retell themselves as they influence others.
Writing Four Sentence Stories
Writing a four sentence story takes some effort. It’s one thing to write whatever comes to mind, but it’s something different to take four major parts of a story and simplify them down to one sentence each each. The point of the four sentence story exercise is to simplify these four ideas so much, that you can easily remember them and then build off of them as you tell a story live or create content.
Order of Sentences
Unless there’s good reason, always order your four sentence stories by setting, tension, and resolution. This is how you would naturally tell a story. The through line will commonly be your fourth sentence but use creative freedom to place it where it makes the most sentence. The through line will tie everything up together and you can think of it as the main idea to be applied.
Ask yourself, what’s important about the time, place, and characters that make this story important for others to hear.
If you don’t capture your audience from the beginning, it doesn’t matter how important your story is. Period.
Questions to ask yourself when writing the setting sentence. Is there something significant about the time, place, or characters in this story that mean something for us? If you can figure out why the setting is important, the tension and resolution will matter to your listeners.
First rule of thumb, tension does not equal conflict, but the tension in your story may very well be conflict.
Identify the struggle, problem, or moment that the characters in your story have to figure out. It’s the significant (kairos) moment that you can’t leave untouched. If your audience shares the same sort of tension in their life, they’ll suddenly be all ears.
If you can’t explain the tension in one sentence, you haven’t discovered what the tension really is. If it’s foggy in your mind, it will be cloudy in the mind of your audience.
Ask yourself, how does the tension in the story resolve itself and why does the resolution to the tension really matter?
The resolution is what your listener is really in it for. They want to know how the story ends. A majority of the time your tension will always resolve itself. It’s the moment that leaves the listener satisfied.
And sometimes, the resolution is that there is no resolution. We call that tragedy. Tragic resolutions can sometimes be very poignant teaching points.
The Through Line
The Through Line is the main idea that you can find in the story from beginning to end. It’s the single idea that ties the entire story together.
What’s the point of it all? What’s the main idea that carried the story from beginning to end? The Through Line carries you through the setting and tension to the resolution.
It’s the glue that holds everything together. For example, the through line might be the overarching principle that if it were followed, could have prevented the tension to begin with. The through line might be the very thing that resolved the tension. Or it might be the idea said that after the story is over, sends your audience forward in their own story.