Braided Storytelling

The 4 elements of a compelling story, intertwined

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I hate to admit it but the most helpful storytelling advice I’ve come across in the past month was on TikTok.

As someone who hates the Tok, that hurts to admit. But the idea of ‘Braided Storytelling’ is so brilliant in its simplicity and practicality I wanted to share it with you. These are my thoughts on the topic, and I’ve included the video at the end of this micro-essay so you can check that out, too.

Every story is made up of some combination of these 4 elements.

  • Action

  • Description

  • Dialogue

  • Interiority

The first three are straightforward, but “Interiority” is a strange word and might be a new concept. Here’s what it means:

The exploration and representation of a character's internal thoughts, feelings, and reflections.

Basically, what’s going on in their noggin.

2 Ways Storytellers Go Wrong

1. Missing One of the Four

In my fiction writing, interiority is the piece most often missing. What are the characters thinking? Nobody knows.

But in my non-fiction writing, I miss dialogue the most. Everyone forgets how to talk.

In the next section, you’ll see a simple editing tip to see which elements you’re most prone to miss.

2. Bucketing Them Out

A braid, for the other guys out there, is a woven hairstyle made up of 3 or more strands (yes, I Googled the definition). You interlace the strands, they don’t just fall haphazardly by themselves.

The same is true here.

If you read the best stories, you’ll notice all 4 elements are woven throughout the narrative. You don’t read a paragraph on what Katniss did, then a description of the setting around her followed by a bit of banter with Peeta, and finally how she’s feeling. They’re interlaced throughout the same passage.

Here’s an example from Eddie Schleyner, who writes the excellent VeryGoodCopy newsletter.

In a short space, Eddie weaves in all 4 elements. Yellow is dialogue, orange is action, green is description, and purple is interiority.

VGC Example

The story’s short on description. But, if you’re going to be short on one, that’s often the one to pick.

Quick tip: Try to make your dialogue and action so compelling they also hit on interiority. You can see how Eddie’s feeling just from what he does and says. That’s “show, don’t tell” in action.

Braiding as an Editing Tool

I find the idea of braids most helpful for editing. When I’m drafting, I set up the outline and word-vomit onto the page. But I like to edit slow.

Above, you saw how I highlighted that passage from Eddie’s story. That’s exactly how I edit, too. These are the 3 steps:

  1. Go through your story with four highlighters—one to highlight each element.

  2. If your story is missing a color, challenge yourself to add pieces of that element throughout. You don’t need huge paragraphs. You’ll be shocked how a sentence here and there can enhance your story.

  3. If your story is blocks of a single color one after the other, challenge yourself to weave the elements together.

After doing this exercise a few times, you notice trends. You see which elements you naturally include and which you need to focus a bit more on.

Have an awesome weekend,


PS. Shout out Nat for the tip and here’s the TikTok video explanation, if you’re curious.

Trivia — A Sentence I Wish I Wrote

What movie script does this line come from?

"The key to faking out the parents is the clammy hands. It’s a good non-specific symptom; I’m a big believer in it."

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