Secrets of storytelling from Amy Tan, local authors

Storytelling is as old as speech. It is the path that links people to their past, their present and their future. From prehistoric narratives told in caves to today’s gossip shared at the dinner table or on Facebook, stories are what keep us entertained and enlightened. 

In a recent lecture at the University of Washington, author Amy Tan did just that. Tan’s work includes “The Joy Luck Club,” “The Bonesetter’s Daughter” and “A Hundred Secret Senses.” In a 30-minute lecture she showed she is not only a gifted writer but also an artist of the spoken word.


Start with curiosity

For all of Tan’s unique ability to invent imaginative places and times, she suggests every story she writes is driven by her keen curiosity about the world around her. 

“The curiosity that I am talking about is what I must know, “ she said. “It’s what will enable us to survive the worst and hardest parts of our lives and enjoy the best ones.” 

For aspiring writers and storytellers, she advises that creativity comes with passionate curiosity.

Using her experiences in the world around her and her own past, Tan reveals the secrets of the creative process and how to find your voice. 

“Creativity is constructing something from all disparate places,” she said. Though she insists she gets a little paralyzed from analyzing her creative process, she points out two key rules to follow in storytelling. 

The first is to find your voice. Tan suggests fear of failure and even success can blind writers from distinguishing their own style and voice. She said she often felt a pressing urge to tell stories that would please the reader and the critics instead of exposing her true voice.

The second key is to ask the important questions. Tan said she has been habitually curious since childhood: “ I would always question, who am I? Why am here?” 

Tan emphasizes that curiosity can be the starting point of the world’s next big idea.

For University of Washington English professor and author David Bosworth, a good storyteller is anyone who writes with “a keen eye, an open heart and a commitment to observe…to understand rather than to flatter or exact revenge.” 

Simply use your life experiences as material to spark your imagination, and don’t linger over how each person will perceive it, Bosworth said.


An emotional connection

Storytelling is everywhere and is not only useful in books, articles and children’s movies. A story is the foundation of powerful political speeches, successful business initiatives and effective marketing campaigns. 

And now with the advent of digital media, anyone can tell their story with the potential to reach a global audience. 

That is the outlook of the author of the new book “Storyteller Uprising,” Hanson Hosein, director of the Master of Communications in Digital Media Program at the University of Washington, an independent filmmaker and a former NBC News war correspondent. 

In a recent interview with KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio, Hosein noted, “We have relegated stories to ‘once upon a time in Disneyland’ for the last hundred years…. Now, we recognize stories are not just about narrative structure, but the accountability to a community.” 

Hosein’s book focuses on the power of storytelling using digital media and the advantages of mastering the principles of narrative writing and speaking. 

“At its heart, a story is about emotional connection. And once people can grasp that, they will pay attention, and that builds that bond of trust,” Hosein said. 

If you present your message in an interesting and memorable way that captures people’s attention, you can often make any idea persist. 

As Amy Tan noted toward the end of her lecture, “If there’s anything my mother taught, it was persistence. You do not give up, and you find what people have not yet thought of yet. You find another way.”

To learn more about the power of storytelling, view Amy Tan’s lecture on storytelling at

To view Hanson Hosein’s series on Storytelling and Digital Media, visit

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