More on Storytelling

Yesterday  I wrote about storytelling as the essence of getting attention, a vital fact for marketing. Today I’m continuing this story.

Storytelling in marketing is important because it relies on thousands of years of human behavior that it has a much stronger pull on us. In addition there are really only 7 basic plots that have their own inflections in culture and history that cause us to know each one individually and each one as belonging to its own genera.

What are these 7 basic plots?

  1. Overcoming the monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

When you are in a group, however, the question remains, how do we use of one of the basic plots to our advantage? How do we tell a story that others are interested in listening to and that keeps their full interest?

First of all, sometimes smug storytellers seem to be telling their story as if they are the hero. Sometimes this is enjoyable, but it’s usually quite a bore. Even when these follow one of the seven basic plots, if the storyteller is the hero of the story, then they aren’t engaging our mind in the storytelling process.

This is because we don’t actually want to hear their story, we want to hear our own.

This is also why we don’t believe marketers who tell their own stories instead of how our story can change with them in our lives. So moving back to telling stories to individuals, we have a few routes to take in order to be better storytellers.

Remember, no matter what your story is, the person who is listening must become the hero at the end of the story. You must position yourself as a guide. For example, if your story highlights a personal triumph, it is because you start with a statement of “I know how to give you ____. Let me tell you a story.” This is also the essence of any good cover letter. What that does is activate the audience’s attention because the speaker is about to enlighten, to give vital information that will help them on their quest or adventure.

The most effective story, however, is one that tells the story through someone else’s voice. This allows the storyteller to play a part in someone else success, comedy or tragedy,  because it engages the imagination of the listener and their ability to see themselves from someone else’s perspective.

Again, the most foundational aspect of this becomes the plot. Does the scene being revealed help to develop the plot of the story, does it create tension, does it emphasize those inflection points of the story?

When we begin to tell a story, we have to become very careful about the kind of language that we use. I propose that there are two kinds of language: language that is designed to create action (performative), and language designed to build agreement (judgmental).

Performative looks like this: Pick that up! Open the door! John scurried down the stairs. Sally blushed with embarassment.

In each of these cases there is no room for argument, only action. Also, the verbs are very powerful, i.e. scurry as opposed to run, blush as opposed to simply ‘was’.

Judgmental looks like this. John was white. Sally was embarassed. He was a bad man. The door needs to be opened.

None of these sentences actually do anything. They provide information, but this information is controversial.

This difference might be useful when you meet up with a friend and start talking about life–what your kids are doing, what the weather is like, what is happening in spots teams, why you hate your boss– it’s not always easy or fun to listen to, because there doesn’t seem to be a story. It’s a lot of information that you don’t know how to process and I don’t either. In fact, that kind of language is designed only to build agreement.

Start with the story, and find the elements in life that can be added to that story. Then crop away everything that doesn’t relate to the story. That way you can start to see your own life in a greater context and find inspiring motivation. The other way you simply build up experiences. These aren’t bad, but they don’t make for much of a story.




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