The Elements of Story

By November 15, 2016Story, Uncategorized

Last week we talked about how stories can be an effective marketing tool to communicate who you are, what you do and why your target market should care. How to tell your story can be confusing, so let’s take a closer look at what a story is and why it moves people to action.

Once Upon a Time

A story has a series of events, but that’s not what a story is. This is an important differentiation because distilling everything down to a chronology takes the wind out of the sails of your story. This is why we read the book in English class instead of running through the CliffsNotes. Imagine if I told you the story of Hamlet like this.

  1. Hamlet sees the ghost of his dead father.
  2. He watches a play
  3. Acts like a crazy person
  4. Yells at his mother
  5. Kills his girlfriend’s father
  6. Goes to England.
  7. His girlfriend kills herself.
  8. Hamlet comes back and fences with his girlfriend’s brother.
  9. Everybody dies.

The end.

Technically this is what happens in Hamlet, but this isn’t the story. Had Shakespeare simply cataloged the events, we wouldn’t be producing  the play 500 years later. So what story are you telling in your marketing?

Imagine if my marketing went like this:

  1. I moved to Seattle.
  2. I started a business.
  3. I sold printers.

The end.

You’ll notice everybody lives in my chronology, but that’s not enough to make up for what it lacks. Hamlet and other enduring stories, like them or not, endure because of their elements, the stuff beyond their events. These elements range from language to historical relevance to characterization, but one of the central elements which takes a chronology and turns it into a story is change.

The Power of Change

This one thing will alter how you tell your story because people want to hear about the day everything changed and the character who changed in turn. Brian McDonald has taught storytellers at Pixar, Disney Feature Animation and Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic how to tell a story. According to him, great stories follow a simple but specific structure and that structure always involves change.

Think about what you’re selling, and the change you want to illustrate should be clear. What were things like before a client came to you and how did your product or service change that? Telling the stories of your clients is incredibly effective. You can focus on the amazing work your client does and highlight your expertise without being salesy. Upon hearing the story of your client’s transformation your audience will see how effective you are at what you do. In a world where pushy advertising repels leads, storytelling offers a strong and attractive method for marketers.

Most companies sell facts and features. Great companies sell stories. No matter what changes affect an industry, technology, economy, business model, whatever—stories will always be the heart of effective marketing.

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