How can you tell good stories in
We often use the narrative tenses to tell stories:
Past simple – -ed endings on regular verbs Episode 60 and irregular
verbs Episode 73
We can use the past simple to talk about events that happened in
I parked the car, got out, crossed the road and suddenly the bike hit
Past continuous – Episode 88
Use the past continuous to describe activities in progress at the time
of your story, or to describe the background.
“When I left my flat the sun was shinning, the birds were singing,
people were walking to work and having breakfast outside cafes.”
NB. The length of time of the action is irrelevant as regards choosing
between Past Simple and Past Continuous:
“I lived (Past simple) in Salamanca for 2 years”
They are only used for contrast of background and main verbs:
“When I was living (Past continuous) in Salamanca, I met (Past simple)
my friend Lara.”
Sometimes, we change past continuous to the present continuous when
we’re telling a story:
“I was waiting in McDonalds for my Big Mac and my children were playing
outside when suddenly….”
“So, I’m waiting in McDonalds for my Big Mac and the kids are playing
outside, when suddenly…”
Past perfect (simple and continuous) – Episode 91 with Mike
You can use the past perfect (simple and continuous) to add more
interest to your story by jumping back and talking about events that
happened before the events in your story:
“I took out my beautiful new camera that I had bought in Madrid the week
“I had been living in Valencia for 8 months before I started going out
with my first girlfriend.”
When we tell jokes, we often use the present tense:
A white horse walks into a bar and orders a whiskey. The barman says,
“Why the long face?”
The barman says, “Which whisky would you like? We’ve got Johnny Walker,
we’ve got Bells, we’ve got J&B and we’ve even got a whiskey named after
The horse says, “What Eric?”
We also use the present tense to give a dramatic narrative effect:
“It happened while I was travelling in Greece.
My girlfriend goes into a shop to buy some water and doesn’t come out!
I wait outside for nearly 10 minutes and guess what I saw when I go in?”
Use linking devices for sequencing:
First of all…
Before that….(past perfect)
In the end…
Up until… (then)
By that time…
For more linking expressions, see Episode 133
Try to use a wide range of words to make your story more interesting.
You can “exaggerate” when you tell a story, so instead of using words
like “nice” or “bad”, experiment with more interesting words,
such as “stunning”, “amazing”, “wonderful”, “awesome”, “horrible”, “awful”,
“disgusting” or “terrible”.
Give a good performance
Keep your story short so that it’s easy to remember and don’t use
Vary the volume, pitch and tempo of your voice (enunciate clearly and
Use silence and pauses to add dramatic effect
Use your face, body and hand gestures (let your body speak)
Look at the people listening, and try to “involve” them in the story.
Keep eye contact.
Use different, exaggerated character voices. Use intonation.
Pace yourself. Don’t speak too quickly,
Practice makes perfect
Remember the plot
Tell yourself the story in your own words until you know it really well
Tell it as many times as possible and try to improve it every time
Practise in the mirror and record video or audio on your mobile phone.
Telling a Christmas anecdote
I was not a well-behaved kid.
I was about 5 or 6
My mum hid presents from my sister. She Wrapped them up in Christmas
One year we had no idea where mum had hidden the presents.
All usual places had been checked by me and my sister.
My parents big wardrobe.
I climbed the shelves in the wardrobe and I saw shiny red paper.
I started to fall back and the wardrobe crashed down on top of me.
My Dad ran upstairs. He saw the mess and said nothing.
He went to the local pub and got drunk!
My parents had always told me as a kid that I shouldn’t go looking for
Santa Claus while he was doing his work of delivering our presents.
They said that if I saw him, he’d throw black pepper in my eyes for
I had to sleep all night and wait until Christmas Day in the morning to
go downstairs and open my presents, they said.
But I often lay awake most of the night in bed, dying to go downstairs
and have a peek.
One year I was so curious that I even got out of bed, in the dark, and
started to creep towards the stairs.
I could barely see anything. But just as I was about to take the first
step downstairs, a man started to walk upstairs.
Petrified that it was Santa Claus that I had interrupted about his
business, I ran like a bolt of lightning and jumped up into my top bunk
bed, above my sleeping younger brother, and got under the covers just as
the man, possibly Santa Claus, was entering the room.
Convinced he would blind me with that black pepper for daring to spy on
him at work, I shut my eyes tight and waited and waited and waited,
until I drifted off to sleep…
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