Writing Resource 4/100: 99 Ways to Tell a Story

Note before starting:

This series of 100 features a range of resources – from practical advice, equipment and some odd ideas, as well as some publications I really like (and maybe one or two I don’t so much, but think there is some interest in the basic concepts). One of the ways I judge as to whether I perceive a book to have some value is whether it is on my bookshelf – if it isn’t and I know I bought it, the chances are I think it’s good and have lent it to someone, normally to never see again. That’s what happened with this book…

99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style by Matt Madden is not a completely new concept – inspired as it is by Raymond Queneau‘s 1947 book of the same title, but I think it’s a great stimulus for writers and artists of any experience or standard.

As the author posits- “Can a story, however simple or mundane, be separated from the manner in which it is told?

The concept is simple: tell the same uncomplicated story in one page, in 99 different styles.

Here’s the base story:

Screen shot of basic template for 99 ways to tell a story
The basic template for 99 Ways to Tell a Story (Copyright of the publisher/ author)

Simple yes? A young man is working at his PC, he gets up, walks out the room, a voice from upstairs asks “What time is it?” He replies, “It’s 1:15”, the owner of the voice says “Thanks” as he opens a fridge door. We see him look in it, and then, looking closer, he asks, “What the hell was I looking for, anyway?!”

Story Done.

Simple, no?

What follows are 98 more versions of that minimal narrative, one per page, and using a different style for each. These may vary in POV, Visual style, and even major plays with the story – but in each case it follows that same basic template.

The book works for me in a number of ways;

  1. A simple, visual explanation of some terminology/ styles: the monologue, the subjective, the POV from upstairs etc.
  2. An introduction to certain landmark artists/ writers and concepts/ styles the reader may or may not be familiar with – the manga, the political cartoon, the homage to Jack Kirby…
  3. And most importantly for this article’s purpose – a stimulus. As a warm-up before getting stuck into serious writing I sometimes take an 8 element concept of my own that I’ve created and open the book at random and try to re-write it in that style: some pages work better than others, as  this is a book for artists as much as it is for writers…

The book is a lot of things – an easy quick read: a real pick-up at any point (I would never be so uncouth to suggest ‘lavatory reading’…) or a devour-in-one-go-and-return-to-later, but it’s also clever, thought provoking, educational and sometimes downright funny.

Two examples to give an idea:



I’ll leave it to the reader to guess the style of the two above..

If you want to purchase your own copy you can do at all the usual places, with the following detail:

UK product details:

  • Imprint: Jonathan Cape
  • Published: 06/07/2006
  • ISBN: 9780224079259
  • Length: 208  Pages
  • RRP: £14.99 (UK)

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