S is for storytelling
Don’t be afraid of stories, they are powerful business tools that can help you get your message across.
“Your tale, sir, would cure deafness.” William Shakespeare, The Tempest
We have been telling each other stories for thousands of years. We tell stories for lots of different reasons – to entertain each other, to explain things to ourselves and others, and to make sense of the world around us.
We all remember stories. We remember the brands that tell the big stories and the great storytellers in business. So how can you tap into storytelling and start making your messages more powerful?
1. ‘When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.’ Raymond Chandler
The most powerful stories have a threat in them, and business is full of conflict and dilemma. Use stories to dramatise the issues you face and how they can be resolved. Here are the questions you should ask about the conflict in your story: what is the core conflict? What will make your reader care about the outcome of this conflict? Does the conflict change over time?
As John Le Carré pointed out: “The cat sat on the mat is not a story. The cat sat on the dog’s mat is a story.”
2. Consider the shape of your story
Every tale needs a narrative arc. In its simplest form, it needs a beginning, a middle and an end. Think in three acts and pretend it’s a Hollywood film. Act one is about the set-up and new situation, outlining a conflict. Act two is concerned with progress, complications and higher stakes. Act three is about the final push and the aftermath.
Once you have these three sections, write one sentence to summarise the essence of your story.
3. Borrow your big themes from myths and legends
Stories are universal. Most are borrowed from myths, fairytales and classical literature. Some people say there are only seven stories in the world. Leo Tolstoy said all great literature is one of two stories: a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. Some say there’s only one story that matters – the quest for the Holy Grail.
Every story begins with its absence: something not quite right. Then everything must be subordinated to finding it. When it’s found, the story ends. Try to sketch out your story using the template below.
Someone... (a character)
Wants... (a quest, a goal, a mission)
But... (a challenge, an obstacle)
So... (a means of succeeding)
Don’t fret about trying to make up a new story. Stories tell timeless, universal truths and there will always be an old story for you to borrow and make your own.
This piece by Elen Lewis was taken from the June issue of Market Leader. Elen is the Editor of The Marketing Society and also runs business writing workshops Email Elen here.
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