How to Tell A Story in English

How many times have you froze when you had to tell a story in English?

You're not alone. Story-telling is one of those skills that English learners have to constantly practice.

It's much easier if you think of English storytelling as a standard formula. Whether you're presenting, writing, or telling someone how your day went, the audience wants the same thing from a story. They want something interesting, something that stays interesting throughout, and a single message they can easily remember.

Below are six tips to master English storytelling in all scenarios. You'll find English phrases and literary devices that are used over and over again by effective storytellers.

With that said, let's get started on your next story.

1. Start off with a hook

Think of this as a trailer for your story. A good trailer can get people to watch a mediocre movie. Likewise, a good hook in the beginning of your story will get readers to actually listen in or read it.

Hooks' length can vary from one sentence to a single anecdote. However, the general rule is to keep it as brief as possible. There are there common types of hooks in English story-telling:

Question hooks:

A question is often the shortest and most effective way to start a story. Common hook questions are:

Question hooks are often rhetorical questions, which is asked in order to create an effect on the audience without expecting an answer from them. The author often asks the question then answers it by themselves in the story.

This article itself begins with a rhetorical question. The phrase "How many times have you stuttered and froze when you have to tell a story in English?" assumes that you have had difficulties telling stories in English before, then the rest of the article helps resolve that problem.

Story hooks:

This is the "Once upon a time" and the "It all begin when" type of hooks. The storyteller tells a backstory that reveal something about what's about to come next. Hooks with an unresolved mystery or problem make readers curious as to how it's going to unravel.

The shocking or interesting statement hook:

If you're a fan of one-liner hooks, this is another way effective way to begin a story with brevity. Some common tropes for this category are:

Ultimately, no matter how interesting your hook is, it should always match the story that's about to unfold.

2. Set the scene with the setting

The setting of the story is much more than just the physical location where the story takes place. A good setting contains time, place, and circumstances. Some people refer to this as the 4Ws and 1H (What, why, when, who, and how).


Time can be as specific as the minute of the day, and as general as the historical era in which the story takes place. It can also be as clear or vague as you want or based solely on relativity. Below are some of the most common time signifiers, from general to very specific.

As you can see, there's an endless number of ways to tell time without simply saying the time, date, and year of the occurrence. Below are some of the most iconic time markers to learn from:


Similar to time, a place can be as specific as the room you're in to something as wide as our milky way. Use unique words rather than overused words to better describe a location. For instance, "beautiful" is over used and unspecific, while "majestic" is a much more vivid term.

When describing a location, utilize imagery, which are information gathered from the five senses. Don't rely on sight alone. Smell, for instance, can evoke strong memories, and touch can evoke emotions. Below are a few descriptive words for the five senses:

Let's take a look at some famous location indicators in popular culture:

These examples are in very simple English, but they are extremely vivid and effective.


There isn't as much of a formula for this category. The circumstance introduces a conflict within the story or a mystery that needs to be resolved. In English stories, there are five types of conflict:

3. A good story is one that ends

Have you ever been bored to death by a story that never ends?

It's a good rule of thumb to make sure every detail of your story contributes to the ending in some way. For instance, if you're telling a story about what happened at work today, you don't need to mention what you had for breakfast in the morning. This way, the story isn't weighed down by unnecessary fluff.

An easy way to ensure all details are interconnected is to use transition words and phrases, such as:

In the beginning:

Cause and effect:

Sequencing events:



For the end:

This way, every sentence helps to thicken the plot. These words and phrases are also pointers to help your audience keep track of where they are in the story.

4. Add emotions to your story

A story is not a news broadcast. You're there to make a reader feel a particular way, or even persuade them to agree with you. Describing your own emotion, or your character's emotion, is the best ways to get the audience to empathize.

For instance, you're describing something shocking. Maybe a friend has been lying to you, use these phrases:

Anger is another strong common emotion with a range of expressions:




While these phrases are helpful when used tastefully, many times actions and facial expressions speak much louder than words. A nervous person may pace around frantically, a surprised person will widen their eyes, and a happy person carries a grin on their face. A combination of phrases and descriptions is the ideal way to inject emotions into your story.

5. Stay consistent with your tenses

There are two grammatical options for English storytelling: the present tense and the past tense.

Inconsistent tenses are among of the most common mistakes made by English learners. Make sure you stay consistent with the tense you chose for your story.

In advanced storytelling, even when you're recalling something that happened in the past, it's actually recommended to tell the story in the present tense. The present tense allows the audience to immerse in the narrative with a sense of immediacy. It also preserves the timelessness of your story.

6. Engage your audience by making the story memorable

Knowing your audience will allow you to be as relatable to them as possible and keep them listening. This is especially important when an average person is always seconds away from their iPhone.

Of course, this requires you to understand your audience demographic first. This is their age, upbringing, their background, location, and anything that can influence the kinds of things they're interested in. It's easy with a little foresight. For instance, think about how differently you talk to your friends versus to your family.

Once you understand your audience, there are two things that you can include in an effective story:

Add the punchlines: Comedians often turn to the audience at intervals and crack a punchline, throw an in-joke, or just say the occasional "I know right?" This is an intermittent checking-in to make sure that the audience is still tuned in, or to get them back on track with the story. If you're not feeling too creative, a few common check-in phrases you can use are:

Make sure there's a single, memorable message: We're all been guilty of cramming too many messages into one story. If you can't derive a single-sentence message from your story, cut it down.