Storytelling as Strategizing
A Guest Post by Daniel McInerny, CEO at The Comic Muse
You’re reticent to tell a story – on your blog, in some piece of free content, in a presentation – because you don't consider yourself a storyteller. You understand that the craft of storytelling can have a huge impact on your business. But you’re not a writer (so you tell yourself). You don’t think in terms of flowery language, characterization, description, the deeply felt and meaningful. You think of yourself as a strategist. You’re good at finding ways to move the ball down the field toward a goal.
Newsflash: If want to try your hand at storytelling for your business, begin by forgetting all about flowery language, characterization, description, and the deeply felt and meaningful. Forget about everything you would tend to think of as necessary to storytelling and simply focus in ona character wanting something.
We don’t need the backstory of your hero. We don’t need to know how he felt as a little boy when his puppy got run over by a car. All we need to know is what he wants here and now; all you need to do is put him in motion toward his goal.
Cut description, characterization, flowery language, the deeply felt and meaningful. In other words, cut out all forms of narration by which you take your reader or listeners by the hand and explain to them what is happening in your story, or by which you try to make your story “interesting.”
What remains after all this cutting? A hero on the move toward something he wants.
Playwright, screenwriter, director David Mamet writes, in his little book, On Directing Film, from which all these ideas are blithely stolen:
“A good writer gets better only by learning to cut, to remove the ornamental, the descriptive, the narrative, and especially the deeply felt and meaningful. What remains? The story remains. What is the story? The story is the essential progression of incidents that occur to the hero in pursuit of his one goal.
“The point, as Aristotle told us, is what happens to the hero...not what happens to the writer.”
The other night my wife and daughter and I watched the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Among the DVD extras were 10 or so scraps that remained on the cutting-room floor when the editing of the film was completed. What’s interesting is that nine out of these 10 scraps were scenes or bits of scenes in which the characters are narrating what is happening in the story – in effect, holding the hands of the audience in order to make sure they “get it.” On reflection, the director David Yates wisely decided to leave these out. These bits may have seemed like a good idea on the days they were shot, but when it came time to cut the film it became clear that they were unnecessary. All an audience really wants from a story is a hero on the move toward his goal. They can pretty much figure out what is happening for themselves.
The goal that your hero is moving toward, moreover, is going to be interesting insofar as you have an interesting answer to the question: “What happens if he doesn’t get it?” The stakes involved with his goal, in other words, should be pretty high.
And the stakes become clarified as conflict is encountered. There’s no way your hero is going to achieve his goal without interruption. So next you’ll need to ask: What are the forces of conflict keeping my hero from his goal? How is he going to get around them?
I hope you’re noticing that the way we’ve been talking about creating a story is very much like that of creating a strategy. After all, storytelling is strategizing. It’s a way of moving a ball down the field. The image of the author in the café dissecting his emotions is unhelpful. Most of the time, writers are in the grip of questions such as: “Now that my hero has the money he needs to pay off the kidnappers of his child, how do I get him to the drop point on time?”
And that’s a strategy question. Which is exactly what you’re good at.
My point being: you can do this. Begin by finding your hero. It could be yourself, the founders of your enterprise, a star client, or someone your business hopes to serve. Next, identify your hero’s goal. Then ask, what would happen if he doesn’t get it? What are the obstacles standing in the way?
Now, tell us that story.
Daniel McInerny is the CEO of The Comic Muse, a brand storytelling consultancy, where he writes The Daily Muse blog. He is also the author of the humorous Kingdom of Patria series for middle grade readers, as well as the comic thriller for adults, High Concepts: A Hollywood Nightmare, available at Amazon. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.