What's Your Story? Storytelling Tips

Science, once the great explicator, garbles life with complexity and perplexity. Who can listen without cynicism to economists, sociologists, politicians? Religion, for many, has become an empty ritual that masks hypocrisy. As our faith in traditional ideologies diminishes we turn to the source we still believe in: the art of the story.”  - Robert McKee
There seems to be an increasing buzz around storytelling. Check out the publication stats detailing frequency of ‘storytelling’ related articles over time on Ishmaels’ corner here.

We often think of storytelling as something you do for children, is it something we should be doing at work? Well, it seems it is something we ALL can be doing to add value. A recent article in by Shane Snow suggested that Storytelling will be the #1 Business Skill of the Next 5 Years. Here is an excerpt: 
“Last year, a pale woman with crazy eyebrows and a keytar strapped to her back made a video of herself, wearing a kimono and holding up hand-Sharpied signs on a street in Melbourne. One by one, the signs flipped, explaining that the woman had spent the last 4 years writing songs. She was a musician, and had parted ways with her record label, which had said the cost of her next album would be a whopping $500,000. She and her band mates were very happy to no longer be with the label, and had worked hard to create some great new music and art. But they couldn't finish producing the record on their own. She needed people’s help to get it off the ground and to make what was now her business - independent music - work. “This is the future of music,” one of her signs read. Another, “I love you.”
She posted the video on Kickstarter. In 30 days, it raised $1.2 million dollars. 24,883 people pre-ordered the album, bought artwork, or simply donated money. The album and tour became a huge success, and the artist turned her music into a real, profitable business. The woman in the kimono, if you haven’t heard this story already, was Amanda Palmer, and she went on to give a massively popular TED talk about the whole affair.
Palmer changed the game for independent musicians with that campaign. And she did it, not by simply asking for money, but by telling her story.
Stories have been an essential driver of change throughout human history. For good and for ill. And now more than ever, businesses, workers, and leaders have opportunities to stand out, spread messages, and make change through storytelling.”

Why is storytelling such a critical skill for success?

Well as Snow puts it ‘No one cares about your marketing goals. But everyone likes a good story’. The businesses that can tell one will have increasing advantage. It’s not only about business, leaders and individuals need to learn how to tell good stories to motivate and inspire and ultimately to succeed.

Daniel Goleman recently wrote an article titled ‘Effective leaders are effective storytellers’- he suggests that storytelling is a medium that allows leaders to move others. It also lets others know who the leader is and how the leader thinks and feels. This is important as it can rally people. Read more here
Mike Bennett’s article explains how storytelling should be recognised as central to the ways in which chief executives act as leaders. They focus on the way CEOs can use storytelling to persuade and to construct meaning for others, establish credentials and build relationships and learn from others. He also believes that story telling (whilst not one of the classic features of managerial leadership in local government yet) will soon form part of a new orthodoxy and become important in the future. The complete post can be found here.
So how do you tell a good story? Well, Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats has compiled nuggets of narrative wisdom she's received working in the animation studio over the years. This list came from her article - The 22 Rules of Storytelling. 
#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about til you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likeable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write ‘cool'. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

What opportunities do you have to tell a compelling story?

“Those who tell the stories rule the world.”-  Native American Proverb 

Author: Kate Tuck, Elysian Training Ltd.