THE ART OF STORYTELLING – PART 1
What’s a Rich Text element?
The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.
Static and dynamic content editing
A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!
How to customize formatting for each rich text
Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.
Hi, I’m Mike L. Murphy. By the end of this 3 part article series you should have a very clear understanding about the art of storytelling, so that you can more clearly communicate your amazing ideas with others. You may be thinking, “Why should I know storytelling? I’m not a writer!” If so, it’s not your fault for thinking that. Most people don’t have a clear understanding of how important this art form is.
Let me ask you a question…
Are you a creative person? In other words, do you create things? You might create art, music, products, services… basically you have an idea in your head and you have to find a way to communicate that to others.
If so, then you’re what I call a Visionary. Visionaries have ‘visions’ of things they want to make and then create them. Who interacts with the Visionaries creations? Their Audience! What is the number one strategy to hook an Audience’s attention? Hint, Hollywood used this strategy to generate over $38 billion dollars in 2015. The world’s top 25 authors earned $89 million in a 12 month time period, and the Article game industry grossed over $98 billion dollars in 2015.
What do all these industries have in common? They tell stories.
Now you may be thinking “I’m not a Hollywood studio, bestselling author or Article game designer.”
Even if you are none of those things, wouldn’t you love to know the secrets of storytelling so you can use them to make your creations better, communicate more clearly, and engage your Audience? When you do these things you create better art and entertainment that engages your Audience (which will in return generate more revenue and fame). If you’re a business owner, when you infuse your marketing with stories, you go from being a pushy salesperson to an educator and entertainer who provides value to your Audience (which will in return generate more revenue and fame).
No matter how you slice it, knowing how to tell a solid story is only going to make you better at what you do.
Before I go deeper into storytelling, let me ask you another question…
At Disney’s California Adventure they have a roller coaster. When the park first opened it was called Mulholland Madness and looked like a plain old roller coaster. Then John Lasetter, head of Disney and Pixar Animation, and director of Toy Story, took creative control over the park.
The creatives changed the coaster’s name and theme to “Goofy’s Flight School.” Riders were no longer on a generic steel roller coaster. Now they were getting schooled by Goofy on how to fly a plane. The roller coaster become suddenly popular.
Any idea what made the difference?
By the end of these 3 Articles you should know how to answer that question!
My goal for you is to have a solid understanding of storytelling so you can entertain your Audience.
But first, let’s define a few things…
An Audience is anyone who will be coming into contact with your Brand.
The dictionary says a brand is, “a particular identity or image regarded as an asset or a type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name.”
If you’re creative, or what I call a Visionary, then YOU are your brand.
Anything you create is part of your Brand. Let’s use Dr. Seuss as an example. He was a writer and illustrator. He wrote dozens of books, many of which are famous as brands of their own. But Dr. Suess was the brand! Dr. Seuss was an artist. But he also was a business. Let’s look at a company like Apple. They were led by the iconic Visionary, Steve Jobs. He saw his company’s products like pieces of art. So to me, a brand for a Visionary is themselves first, then anything they create second.
Therefore your Brand is anything you create. It can be entertainment, like movies, games, shows, books… the list goes on. Or it can be education. If you’re running a business, your Brand should use education to tell your Audience how your Brand can benefit them. Or it can be a product that enriches the life of your Audience.
What is the invisible thread that ties all this together? Storytelling.
Steve Jobs made electronics. Yet everyone knows his story. Same with Vincent Van Gogh, The Beatles or Virgin Airlines. We know the story of the Visionaries creative process while creating their respective works of art.
Storytelling is the engine that drives the great marketing of a great brand.
It’s simply the story a business or an individual (a Visionary) tells their Audience about themselves and their creations.
Bad marketing is all about selling. That’s why you want to learn how to use stories to persuade and educate others.
Storytelling principles are necessary for Artists who want to form a deeper emotional connection with their Audience so that they can get more fans. It’s also for Entrepreneurs who want to incorporate solid messaging into their branding and marketing so that they can clearly communicate the value they provide to their customers (I call all customers ‘Guests’). When value is properly communicated the Audience converts to Guests (because they bought) which results in the Entrepreneur’s business making more money.
Before we dive too deeply in, let me give you a quick overview of what you’ll learn in each Part of this comprehensive trilogy of articles.
Article 1 is all the about the ‘Big Picture’ of storytelling.
You’ll learn the big ideas that are necessary for you to understand the more advanced concepts that we’ll talk about in Articles 2 and 3. These ‘big ideas’ include ‘what is a story’, ‘how a story can benefit you’ and an analogy of how a story is a like a roller coaster. My thought is that stories are not physical things that you can look at and instantly ‘get’.
But a roller coaster, which provides a similar experience as a story, is a great example we can use so you can easily grasp the ‘big ideas’ of storytelling. We’ll talk more about roller coasters very soon!
Part 2 is all about Characters and Audience. Why is that so important? Because your Audience is made up of human beings. As humans we need to relate to the stories we hear.
The best way to relate is to tell stories about characters we can relate to.
In other words, if you tell me a story about a character I relate to (because I understand their motivations and emotions) then I’ll become emotionally invested in finding out if the character succeeds (or fails tragically).
A character is anyone, or anything, that your story is about. If you use the principles I’ll tell you later about creating great characters, you’ll be able to design characters that capture your Audience’s interest. When you think of any great story, you usually think about the main character, Batman, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, etc. There is a reason most stories are titled after the main character.
Finally, Part 3 is all about Story Structure. Story Structure is the series of events and information that must happen in order for your Audience to have the best emotional experience.
If you don’t understand story structure you won’t be able to tell a solid story. We’ll review classic storytelling and then I’ll relate this back to our roller coaster example so you can clearly understand what the structure looks like.
Since we’re talking about stories, let me quickly tell you mine…
As a kid, I always loved movies. They were my only means of escape. My home life was pretty chaotic and my parents weren’t really around. So movies, and the characters they told about, were all I really had to go with. They taught me what life was about. How to have honor, how to go after my dreams, and how to stay positive.
In high school I had the great luck to receive an invitation to the Disney Animation Studios in Hollywood. Here I was, a 16 year old kid, hanging out at Disney watching adults act like kids while creating a make believe world. They were making Aladdin at the time. Before this tour I assumed that movies were simply magically made in someone’s mind. But after the tour I realized that great stories are works of art created by dozens of skilled Visionaries. These massive projects were all bound together by the central idea of the story. In other words, if you don’t have a solid story to tell, then the team of Visionaries will have no direction. You’d be left with a massive mess as no one was on the same page.
Seeing hundreds of Visionaries working so intently, on something so imaginative really inspired me! At that moment I asked, “How can I do this?” to the Disney animators. The animators told me I needed to attend CalArts…the art school Walt Disney founded right before he passed away. Even though I was only 16, and had one year of high school to go, I applied, got in and then dropped out of high school. So yes, technically, I am a high school drop out!
At CalArts I was fascinated with storytelling. I wanted to know the ‘magic trick’ that made the Audience believe a character was alive. This effect was even more dramatic when the character was something completely fictitious like an animated lamp or monster.
But I struggled to learn storytelling!
Why? Because it’s so idiotically simple that us Visionaries want to make it complex.
Immediately after college I started writing scripts. They weren’t very good because I was learning my craft. In other words, you’re not going to be the next J.K. Rowling the minute you finish the third Article in this series, but you will begin to understand what Rowling did and why. Because I didn’t feel those early scripts were that good (they weren’t because I hadn’t mastered storytelling yet) I didn’t think of myself as a Writer.
After 15 years in the film industry, working on such blockbuster franchises as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Ironman and Fast & Furious, I was ready to direct. I’d directed commercials and award winning short films prior to that but now I was ready to direct a feature film.
Every producer I talked to said, “You’re talented, but you need to be a writer-director”. I was hesitant to write my own scripts because I had the mindset that I wasn’t a writer. Around this time, I realized that in order for me to have time to write a script (and direct a movie) I couldn’t be working 12 hour days supervising visual effects for other directors! I needed to break off and do my own thing.
In short, I needed to become an Entrepreneur.
I took the plunge and ‘left’ Hollywood. In three short years I was able to build two 6 figure businesses and hire a staff. I had to write all my own presentations and marketing. I got so good at this that other Entrepreneurs hired me to help them with their businesses!
It was ironic because I am not a business guy. I’m a Storyteller. What makes my businesses successful is my love and knowledge of how to tell a good story. Stories help your Audience learn to know you, like you and trust you. This is where you build the relationship and become relatable. When this happens you magically create a fan base that supports your passions financially.
When you know how to tell stories you’re able to clearly communicate your ideas. How many times do people ask you, “What do you do?” and you sort of stumble through explaining things? Or you try to present an idea and people look at you confused.
These are both symptoms of a lack of storytelling on your part. The honest truth is I used to SUCK at storytelling but was committed to mastering it. Now I’m taking all that I’ve learned and am presenting it to you as clearly as possible in this 3 Article training series.
WHAT IS A STORY?
My definition is this… It’s information that is organized into a structure that evokes the emotions of an Audience.
Think of a great story like Christmas.
Imagine you’re five years old. You wake up and wipe the sleep from your eyes. You bound out of bed and dash down the stairs to see the beautiful presents lined up under the tree.
You know they’re full of awesome things…
But you can’t find out what they are yet.
This creates anticipation and uncertainty. You assume the presents will be exactly what you want…but they could suck. Or they could be something way cooler than you were anticipating!
Your curiosity makes Christmas an exciting event.
A great story should illicit the same excitement and emotions as that five year old version of yourself felt.
LET’S AGREE ON FOUR THINGS:
THING #1: EVERYTHING IN NATURE HAS A STRUCTURE.
An example of this is DNA.
Every living thing has a highly detailed ‘blueprint’ embedded inside them. Another example is atoms and molecules. Inside every physical object are these basic cosmic building blocks. Nothing physical can exist without them.
THING #2: HUMANS EXPERIENCE EMOTIONS.
There are seven primary ‘Story’ Emotions that you can use in Storytelling to really engage your Audience:
- Anger – When we see an injustice happen to a character we get upset and root for them to overcome the villain or circumstance that caused that injustice to happen. In Braveheart the main characters wife is taken as the King’s prize. This infuriated the Audience and made them root for Mel Gibson to kick some butt! Anger is when you show your Audience something that threatens them so much they want to fight and scream!
- Disgust – Imagine you’re watching a Sci-fi movie…the Hero, creeping through the darkness of a mad scientist’s evil lab, he quickly blasts an oversized Slug that leaps out at him. Green slime spraying everywhere! How’d you react? You probably went ‘ooooh!’ as you scrunched your nose like you just smelt last week’s unwashed laundry. That’s disgust and it’s an easy emotion to make your Audience instantly feel. Disgust is when you show your Audience something so revolting that they have to look away in a knee-jerk reaction, or feel morally offended at the sight their seeing.
- Fear – This is the emotion that puts us on the edge of our seat during a suspenseful moment. It raises our pulses, makes us sweat…and makes us heave a huge sigh of relief when the fear is minimized. This is the same emotion we feel as we plunge down the tracks of a steep roller coaster…we’re scared witless up until we glide out of trouble and we’re assured we’re safe. Fear is when you show your Audience something so scary, so dreadful and so horrific that they want to shield their eyes, hold their breath and run away.
- Happiness – How do you feel when you see little children giggling as they play, or a mother gently helping her son walk for the first time, or a group of puppies yawning in the sunshine. You feel happy! And it feels good. This is a powerful emotion that induces smiling, giggling and out right laughing. Heck, sometimes we can even weep tears of joy. Happiness is when you show your Audience something so amusing that a smile creeps on their face and they forget their troubles.
- Sadness – This is a strong emotion that everyone can relate to. It’s very intimate, so when you use this in your story Audiences feel a great bond. Chances are most of your favorite movies that really touched you did so because you felt sadness at one point. Stories that make us cry are the best! Sadness is when you show your Audience something that is so overwhelming full of sorrow and heaviness that they can’t help but tear up.
- Wonder – This is when your jaw drops at the spectacle you see or read about. If you remember seeing Jurassic Park back in 1993, the Audience’s jaws all hit the floor the first time they saw the Brontosaurus. Wonder is when you show your Audience something so beautiful, graceful, unbelievable that they just can’t help but stare in wide-eyed amazement.
- Surprise – You’re in a haunted house, the wind is howling, the lightning flashes…..boo! You jump! That’s one type of surprise. The other is you watch as the world’s leading illusionist jumps the Grand Canyon in a shopping cart. You’d be surprised, right? Surprise is when you show your Audience something unexpected.
In marketing there is a mixture of six different ‘Marketing’ Emotions that prompt us to buy:
- Greed – Sales are so effective because Audience’s feel they ‘might miss out’. They get greedy and end up buying. Greed is so engrained into Human psychology that it’s the #1 sin.
- Fear – Humans want to fit in with the ‘pack’. Fear is a great way to get Audience’s to buy your stuff because they fear not being accepted by others. Don’t believe me? How do you explain trends and fads of useless products? Consumers simply want to be accepted and buying products that promise we’ll be cooler (alcohol), trendier (fashion) or sexier (deodorant, make up and perfume) all happen because we fear not being socially accepted.
- Altruism – We feel good when we help others. It feeds our ego.
- Envy – Unfortunately we often want what offers have.
- Pride – We all have egos, so when we have something that others envy it makes us feel a sense of pride. We feel like we have a higher social status over those that envy the thing we have.
- Shame – No one wants to be left out and shame happens when you feel others will judge you negatively, therefore helping you justify buying a product.
Notice how three of the seven deadly sins are in the marketing list above? Greed, Lust and Pride. Now you know why consumers think Marketers can be evil!
You can also see that both storytelling and marketing use the emotion of Fear to engage an Audience.
My goal, if you’re an Entrepreneur, is that you can start to understand how to layer the Seven Story Emotions into your marketing efforts. “But I’m an artist” you might be thinking. Even so, an Artist needs to market their art to studios, clients and social media fans. In other words, even an artist has to use a little bit of marketing.
As the great screenwriting guru Robert McKee says,
“When we want mood experiences, we go to concerts or museums. When we want meaningful emotional experience, we go to the Storyteller.”
These emotions get expressed as reactions and actions. A great actor, who is portraying a character, will use this pattern of action and reaction to simulate how we experience our emotions.
Let me give you an example.
Imagine it’s 2:14 in the morning. You’re thirsty. Really thirsty. That damn salty pizza you had at midnight is wreaking revenge on your mouth. Water is necessary.
So you climb out of bed, and because you love your spouse, you don’t turn on the light. You brave the darkness as you fumble towards the kitchen.
Then suddenly…. OUCH!
You stub your toe.
Most likely you’ll let out a yelp of pain, then rub your toe, then say some colorful word and curse the boot that you left in the hallway.
So what really happened here?
First off you are expecting to painlessly walk into the kitchen, so the boot smashing into your toe is totally unexpected. This unexpected situation causes you to react! Your reaction is you yelp in pain! Then you need to act, so you grab your toe as you curse to the heavens.
That’s one example of how you react and act to a situation. Another is a joke. You hear a joke and then react with surprise at the punch line. This manifests with you taking action by laughing or, if you’re really dorky, slapping your knee.
In any event, you expect something and then your emotions kick in and cause you to react when something different happens.
Humans LOVE to have our emotions played with. Steven Spielberg is a master at playing human emotions like a conductor.
If you look at the most popular films of all time, they all tell stories that take their Audience on a roller coaster ride of emotions.
THING #3: STORIES ARE A MANUAL FOR LIFE.
We love to tell stories because they tell us more about our own humanity. The reason religions are so popular is because they revolve around stories that tell us the rules for living. How to be kind to one another. How to turn the other cheek. When to stand up and fight.
Stories are a manual for life. They give us affirmation that our pathetic little lives have meaning. That we can all rise above mediocrity and become heroes for ourselves, our loved ones and society at whole.
These stories repeat over and over in every culture, over vast periods of time. The Ancient Greeks told the same types of stories that we tell today. Stories of heroes overcoming evil, young lovers beating the odds and ending up together, or dreamers sticking to their Visions and changing the world.
Stories help us realize other humans have the same hopes, dreams and fears as we do.
Stories help educate, inspire and motivate us to be better people. Stories can sway popular opinion and make an impact in the world (like allowing women to vote, or minorities to be able to sit on a bus!) The key to these stories working is having characters we see ourselves in.
Life is chaotic and seemingly random and for some reason, humans do not like random. It freaks us out. So we have to find a way to order random events so we feel like we have some control over them.
Therefore stories apply order and structure to the chaos of our lives. A good story is a way to structure the random moments we all experience in a way that helps Audience’s feel a little bit better about things. If you think of life like a messy closet, a good story organizes the clutter of life into something we can somewhat understand and manage. A classic example of this is the saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” That’s total crap. Life happens because life is life. However, it makes us feel better able to accept crap coming our way if we think ‘there was a reason for this.’
As writer Michael Shermer said,
“Humans are pattern-seeking story-telling animals, and we are quite adept at telling stories about patterns, whether they exist or not.”
THING #4: GREAT STORIES HOOK OUR CURIOSITY.
A bad story spoon feeds us what is going to happen. Or worse…it bores us with clichés, characters who do contrived things, or it reeks of inauthentic situations and writing.
A good story, on the other hand, forces the Audience to use their brain. Remember how I said that a good story is like Christmas?
That’s because a good story poses a big riddle that hooks our curiosity.
We want to find out what is inside the box!
There is a reason people love puzzles and games. Jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, and sporting events; We want to find out what the answer is, and who will be the winner!
This basic human emotion is so strong that we will sit through a crappy two hour movie to find out if Superman will kick Batman’s ass.
Great stories layer riddle upon riddle, question upon question. They hook us in and keep posing question after question.
The genius of Star Wars is that the story posed so many questions that Audience goes back film after film to find out who Luke’s father is, and why Rey has the force.
There is a reason why movie trailers hook our curiosity by teasing us with bits of the story. There is a reason TV shows end on a cliffhanger, making us want to tune in next week (or in my case binge-watch two seasons of Daredevil on Netflix). There is a reason marketing messages ask us, ‘might this product also work for you?’ only to see us buy that product and find out the answer.
Humans need to have riddles solved. This is actually a scientific effect! It’s called the Zeigarnik Effect and simply states that we must complete tasks and thoughts or it’ll stress us out! Humans need to finish what they have started, and feel stress if they don’t complete it. Relief only comes from completing the task.
Even in acting, the actors hook the Audience’s curiosity by layering ‘sub-text’ into their performances. A great example of this is a detective saying, “I love you” to his femme fatale lover when we know he really is saying, “I’m going to shoot you for backstabbing me with the mob.” Whenever an actor uses subtext in their performance, it hooks the Audience into figuring out what emotions the actor is really feeling.
Long story short…Audiences need to be engaged emotionally. It’s like getting a cat’s attention. If something is moving, the cat is engaged. If nothing is happening, the cat is taking a nap.
If you don’t hook your Audience’s attention (and keep re-hooking it), you’ve lost them.
No Audience means no story to tell!
BAD STORY EXAMPLE
Bob walked down the street and wanted an ice cream cone. He bought one and it tasted good.
Yikes! What a crappy story!
Why did that suck so bad?
A few reasons.
First off, Bob has no character. You don’t get a sense of who he is.
Nothing happens. Nothing. This is because there is no conflict.
And because nothing happened, there are no emotions.
I’ll now tell a different version of the Bob story. See if you can spot the difference.
GOOD STORY EXAMPLE
It was a crazy hot day. The heat seemed to be turning the asphalt below Bob’s feet to molten lava.
Bob was getting his one day per month excursion from the retirement home. Normally a man of 103 isn’t very mobile. But today Bob was on a mission. It was the Farmer’s Market and that meant one thing. The Ben and Jerry’s truck, and Bob’s favorite flavor… Chunky Monkey.
He liked the little chunks of frozen banana Jerry always seemed to tuck inside.
Even better, they were offering two scoops for one sale! That meant twice the refreshment (and much needed calories) for good old Bob. Only 99 cents.
Bob smiled and licked his lips.
Humming to himself, he reached into his left pocket…
His humming stopped. A puzzled look falls upon his face.
He then plunged his hand into his right pocket…
Another look of shock shoots across his face.
His wallet didn’t seem to be there!
Frantic, Bob started double and triple checking his pockets.
All this exerted energy was making him bleary eyed… The handles of his walker starting to slip from his trembling fingers…
Let’s stop this story right here. What was the difference between this story and the previous one?
In this story you get a sense of Bob and his big problem.
There is lots of conflict. Nothing seems to go right for poor old Bob. The stakes are stacked against him!
This layering of problems hooks your curiosity. You want to find out what happens!
Also, the story features specific details. It paints a picture of little scenes that you can imagine happening to Bob.
There is also Reaction/Action. Each ‘action’ Bob takes causes the next thing to happen. This is a simple cause and effect mechanism.
Here’s an example:
- It’s a hot day, and Bob wants refreshment.
- He sees the ice cream truck.
- Bob reacts by licking his lips.
- He then acts by reaching into his left pocket for money.
- Bob then reacts to not finding his wallet.
Do you see the difference? By adding a character you can relate to, curiosity and lots of Actions and Reactions you can craft a story that captures an Audience’s attention.
STORY IS LIKE A ROLLER COASTER
So far, what common word have you heard me utter over and over again?
If you said ‘emotions’ you deserve an ice cream, like Bob!
But because stories are not tangible things…they’re conceptual, not physical, let me give you an example of something that is like a story that I think you can relate to.
If you’re familiar with the Visionary Planner, then you know that I teach business in relation to a theme park. If you’re an artist keep in mind that business is an art form.
As Andy Warhol said, “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”
Just like a story, a business can be a vague concept that is hard to grasp. But we can all understand theme parks.
Because we can see them, smell them, touch them….in short, we can experience them. Whenever we experience anything our emotions kick in.
Please note, the emotion of ‘boredom’ is not something you want to kick in!
SO LET’S RELATE A STORY TO A ROLLER COASTER.
You’ve been on a roller coaster, right? Or at least you know what they are?
Roller coasters are just like stories because they evoke strong emotions in the Audience. Remember that when our emotions are engaged we have a great experience!
Let’s talk about the main elements of a roller coaster…
In the image below we can see there is a track, a train, a rider, an Audience and power. A story has similar features. So in this Article I’ll relate a roller coaster to a story, and in the next Articles we’ll dive deeper into the thrilling experience a roller coaster, and a story, put you on.
Pop quiz….what powers a roller coaster?
You probably said ‘electricity’.. If so, thank your third grade science teacher. She taught you well.
A Roller Coaster needs electricity to power the lift that hauls the Train to the top of each hill.
A story is powered by 3 things: Conflict, Curiosity and Emotions.
A roller coaster always has a high level of conflict! After all, you could die at any moment (the fact that you don’t is what makes it so exhilarating). A story needs conflict in order to be emotionally engaging for the Audience. We’ll talk more in-depth about conflict in Part 2 of this Trilogy of Storytelling Articles.
But suffice to say, a story is a pretty miserable experience for the Audience if there is no conflict. Conflict keeps the hero from easily accomplishing their goal. Just like in our example story about Bob, if the character doesn’t have any challenges then the story is boring.
Boredom is the death of a great Audience experience.
On a roller coaster, you’re being whipped around the track so fast you’re always curious as to what will come next! A loop? A corkscrew? A giant dip?
Curiosity must also happen in your story.
If the Audience isn’t curious about what is going to happen, your story will go nowhere.
A great Storyteller is constantly hooking the Audience’s curiosity by asking question after question, riddle after riddle, that the Audience wants to answer. Remember the Zeigarnik Effect? Great stories make Ms. Zeigarnik proud!
What happens when you watch a movie that doesn’t involve you in any way? You get bored!
It’s like when you’re at a party and someone is talking at you, not with you. You don’t feel important so you check out. A story is no different. If you don’t get the Audience to interact (by actively trying to solve riddles and answer questions you’ve thrown their way), they will get bored and change the channel.
As we’ve discussed, all People can relate to emotions. (The exception might be anyone who works for the DMV.)
Feeling emotions make us feel engaged. It makes us feel human and it binds us together.
This is why thousands of strangers can unite and enjoy concerts and movies. All those people are tuning into the same emotions the musicians and Storytellers are ‘vibrating’ out to their Audience. The funny thing is, people even project human emotions onto animals. My dog feels sadness, fear, joy and boredom. Well, at least in my mind. In reality he just wants to chew my shoes. But seriously, the most popular pets are dogs and cats. Why? Because their tails, big eyes, sounds and ears help us understand their emotions. It helps us ‘vibrate’ with what we think they might be feeling. Which again is usually ‘those shoes look chewable’.
The Ancient Greeks had two words for emotions.
One is Chronos. This meant ‘normal time’. This is boring, every day time.
The second is Kairos. This is time that is heightened with emotions. Kairos time makes you pay attention and be present.
A great story puts the Audience in Kairos time, where they’re sitting up and emotionally connected to the story.
As I’ve already said, but it bears repeating, the most powerful emotion you can tap into is ‘curiosity’. If you don’t make your Audience curious then you’ve lost them. Boredom has won and you have lost. Sucks to be you.
“Today everyone, whether they know it or not, is in the emotional transportation business. More and more, success is won by creating compelling stories that have the power to move people to action. Simply put, if you can’t tell it, you can’t sell it.” -Peter Guber
In other words, if your stories aren’t compelling, and they don’t excite an Audience’s emotions then it’s over for you. The Audience won’t stick around to continue that story with you (like buying your Brand’s products).
A roller coaster has a track so that the train full of the riders can experience the journey. On a roller coaster this track is visual and clear. It’s usually towering above you!
In a story, the track represents the big ideas that guide the direction of your story. This track guides the rider up and down, in and out and controls the speed. It’s the structure of the coaster. If this track is not properly planned out one of two things can happen. One is the roller coaster is boring and the riders will have an awful experience. The other is that if the track is not structurally sound, then the riders could die!
The big ideas of a story are no different. They can kill the Audience with boredom!
Think of a story’s ‘track’ as the concept, or premise. This concept then gets broken down into smaller pieces called ‘beats’ that make up the plot. But we’ll talk about that in Article 2. For now I want you to grasp what a concept, or premise is.
The concept is the core idea that makes up your story. Here’s an example: A Team of bickering Superheroes must team up to save the earth from evil invading aliens.
What story is that from? If you guessed The Avengers you’re a geek!
The concept is the most important part, because you can’t tell a great story if the underlying ideas are garbage. Well you can if you call it Transformers Part 9.
A concept can be summed up in just an image, like my painting below.
Or it can be long, like the Avengers movie.
Or it can be really long, like the Harry Potter books.
It really depends on how solid the underlying structure is.
So when you’re creating you want to know what your story is about. If you aren’t clear on the structure and concept then your Audience won’t be either. Then a story’s greatest enemy…boredom, will kick in!
Just like a roller coaster has support beams and a foundation, your story concept needs a few more things…
Your story’s foundation includes Genre, Moral, Storyteller and Mood.
Roller coasters come in different types… wooden, steel, kiddie and hanging are amongst some of the examples.
If you’re making a movie or writing a novel, you need to know the genre of the story. This is a fancy way of saying what type of movie style it is.
A story comes in different genres like horror, chick-flick, action, adventure, comedy and family. A good Storyteller will pick a genre before they start telling their story. Otherwise their story will be a total mess. You wouldn’t make a kiddie roller coaster called ‘the Demon’ and have 13 loops. Toddlers would die of fright! So you must know your genre so your Audience receives the experience they want.
In business, your Brand’s story must tell the story your Audience wants to hear. If you’re selling pop music to teenage girls you wouldn’t want to make it look like a death metal band. Your band won’t be around very long!
At the end of a roller coaster ride you experienced something; Fear, suspense, excitement.
You walk away learning a little bit more about yourself (that you were brave enough to strap yourself into a speeding train that could easily derail and kill you). This realization has helped you learn and grow (unless you’re a 15 year old boy…then you’re just an adrenaline junky).
So what’s the equivalent of that in a story?
It’s the ‘moral’.
This is the reason you told the story in the first place. This is the philosophy your story is about. Some examples are ‘believe in yourself’, ‘cheaters never prosper’, ‘let’s put aside our differences and all work together for the greater good.’
A great story, just like a roller coaster, lets those who experience it walk away knowing something more about themselves and life. This moral enriches us and also bonds us together. The moral of Star Wars (‘Use the force’) inspired millions of young people to go after their dreams.
A roller coaster also has an Engineer.
This is the person who planned the track out and made sure it was built properly. They understand their Audience and listen to their feedback so they can create the best Audience Experience they can. The Engineer is the Storyteller of the roller coaster’s life. A story has a Storyteller.
But here’s a secret… for a story to excite an Audience’s emotions, the Storyteller must be passionate.
This passion should be bursting from the speech, text or images the Storyteller creates. The more passion the Storyteller infuses into the story, the more excitement the Audience feels. It’s like a tuning fork. Tuning forks will vibrate at the frequencies of other tuning forks.
Your job as a Storyteller is to vibrate as boldly as you can (because you love the story and characters you’re talking about). When this happens your Audience will feel it.
I’ve worked on dozens of movies. But only a few of those are classics.
What made the difference?
The passion of the Storyteller (in this case the Writer-Director). Brad Bird, Peter Jackson and Jon Favreau are amazing Storytellers because they put their passion into the stories (and are able to get the crew to vibrate at the same frequency too).
The reason why the Storyteller is telling a particular story is as important as the story they’re telling. They have to reveal their humanity and vulnerability. A Storyteller who is not connected to the story for personal and passionate reasons, will always fail to connect with an Audience.
A themed roller coaster, like any that can be found at a Disney park, let’s the Audience experience a particular emotional mood. It can be a haunted roller coaster with ghosts popping out, or a simulated airplane flight where you feel exhilarated.
The story equivalent of our roller coaster’s theme is mood.
A roller coaster can be themed to anything…an exciting rocket ride through space, a runaway mine car or mountain bobsled. In a story, the mood is how the story feels. Is it dark and brooding like an art house flick, or fast and fun like a Hollywood blockbuster? Is it spooky or silly? A great story has a specific tone that the Audience gets to feel. Remember that the Audience wants to experience an emotional roller coaster.
Setting a strong mood is a great way to clue the Audience into how they should feel. Music plays a big part in this. The big reason Lucas and Spielberg were so successful in the 80’s was the music in their films. John Williams did a kick ass job of elevating the moods of each film and making the Audience feel something.
If you want a clear example of mood, look no further than Evil Dead 1 and 2. Both films were directed by Sam Raimi. When I was 14 I wrote to 15 directors for advice, and only Sam Riami wrote me back. He hand wrote five pages of inspiration back to me. So Sam, if you’re listening, you rock!
Back to Evil Dead… Evil Dead 1 is a bloody horror film. Evil Dead 2 is a remake of the first, but the mood is comedy. It’s a slapstick spoof of the first and it’s amazing! It was so inspirational that Peter Jackson made his own horror comedy, Dead Alive. So you can now see that mood is different than genre and all good stories must have a strong mood.
A roller coaster has a train for the Riders to sit in. It protects them and moves freely along the track moment by moment. I call this ‘The Journey’ they go on. The famous scholar on myth, Joseph Campbell, called this the ‘Heroes Journey’.
The Audience is living vicariously through the adventures of the Hero, so it’s vital that the Storyteller plan the journey out. In Article 3 we’ll talk about the parallel experiences the Audience and Hero should have. Think of the train as the moment-by-moment experience both the Audience and Hero are having. When the Hero is winning, the Audience feels joy and pride. When the Hero is losing the Audience feels dread and despair.
In the 2nd Article we’ll talk about the ups and downs the train should go on so the Audience has the best possible ‘customer’ experience. Knowing how to manipulate the emotions of your Audience, and give them an amazing experience, is what will make your stories (and brand) resonate with others and take over the world!
A roller coaster has a rider. This is the poor sap who is strapped into the train’s seat. They’re at the mercy of the track!
In a story, this is your Hero. A hero is a misleading term, because some stories are tragedies. The Hero dies in the end. Or they’re comedies, and the hero is a hapless moron who is doomed to repeat the same idiotic behavior for the end of time.
So a term I prefer is Protagonist. This is the main character. Remember this word has the pre-fix ‘Pro’. Pro means ‘for’. This is the character we’re rooting for. The Protagonist is the element in your story that makes it accessible for the Audience. It’s the guide that we relate to emotionally that shows us around the world of your story.
The Protagonist must be relatable. Commonly this character is an ‘underdog’ or ‘everyman’. By having them be so relatable it helps us see ourselves in them.
The Protagonist can also be a total dick. They can be evil, corrupt and nasty just so long as they aren’t the nastiest character in the story. A famous example of a sympathetic ‘bad guy’ is Michael Corleone in Godfather 2. He’s tragic, but because he’s not the most evil character in the story, we can relate to his need to protect his family and we root for him.
A lot of stories also have ‘anti-hero’ protagonists. These are characters who do bad things for good reasons. Good examples of this are the superheroes in Deadpool, Punisher and Daredevil. They kick ass in unethical ways in order to protect good people.
The secret is we must empathize with the Protagonist in order to relate to them. Empathy is when you can relate to someone else’s feelings.
Remember how earlier I said stories are a manual for how we should live our lives? How we can rise above our primal animalistic needs to be the best people we can be? A great protagonist lets the Audience learn vicariously through them. We get confirmation that if we struggle enough and put up with enough bullshit we just might come out on top, like Rocky, Luke Skywalker and Jackie Chan!
You can’t have a story without a Protagonist. Otherwise, your Story wouldn’t be about anyone or anything.
However, sometimes a story can make the Storyteller (first person narrator), the Audience (first person shooter game), a group or community (an ensemble film like The Avengers), the Brand (Apple computer’s story of how they were the ‘little guy’ battling the evil tech giant of IBM) or the product (The iPod brought you 1,000 songs in your pocket) the Protagonist.
ust like a Story, a Roller Coaster has a line of people who want to experience the coaster. Usually the longer the line, the more fired up with anticipation the line of people is to ride the coaster. These people who are waiting in line are Spectators.
For a story, the Audience is anyone who is experiencing the story (they could read it, listen to, see it or experience it).
You must know the type of stories they want to hear. I call this the ‘experience’. The best Storytellers, like Steven Spielberg think about the Audience experience.
The most amazing thing for me is that every single member of an Audience who experienced a story brings a whole set of unique experiences. Master Storytellers (who completely understand what their Audience wants) are able to get their Audience to react to key story moments as a community.
This means through careful manipulation and good storytelling a master Storyteller can get everyone in the Audience to clap, laugh and to be on the edge of their seat in unison at key points in the story. They’re like a conductor conducting a symphony of Audience emotions.
As a Storyteller, you must know your Audience. In business you can use techniques like Audience Analysis Research to get a very clear snapshot of who your Audience really is. It’s where you analyze what your Audience wants, and what gets them fired up.
The example I teach about in my Visionary Planner Training is how Walt Disney commissioned extensive Audience Analysis reports before he bought the land for Disneyland, and before he designed any of the park. He was smart enough to know to invest the time to really understand what his Audience was expecting, and what they’d pay for.
Walt understood that his ticket buyers would be families. Families with little kids will spend a lot of money. This set Walt up for massive success. His audience analysis told him that the family Audience for Disneyland is very different than the teen thrill seekers who go to Six Flags.
If Disney had not understood that families with small kids do not want to ride roller coasters called ‘The Demon’ with 100 loops, then no one would visit their parks. They’d be bankrupt or they’d just sell their failed park to Six Flags.
Here’s another example of knowing your Audience…
Fans of Death Metal like black, skulls and grunge. Fans of Teen Pop music like hearts, glitzy fashion and squeaky clean lyrics.
If you don’t entertain your intended Audience you’re in trouble!
Remember that your Audience is not a mass of people! It’s a series of Individuals. Your job as a Storyteller is to respect each and every person’s intelligence and limited time.
As George Lucas famously directed his actors in Star Wars, “Faster and Clearer.” George knew the Audience would have a piss poor experience if the story was boring and wasn’t clear. George became a billionaire because he understood this. I hope you do too!
I want to drill something into your head (without the use of power tools)…
Every Audience wants to experience emotions! Why? Because an Audience is made up of human beings.
Your job as a Storyteller is to draw your Audience in and let them experience the emotions they want to experience!
The more intense an Audience’s engagement with the story is, the more powerfully they’ll feel emotions. The more emotion they feel, the more they’ll love your story. It’s a direct correlation.
Here is another quote by screenwriting guru Robert McKee…
“Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.”
Also know that you can speak to your Audience on two levels. ‘Heart’ and ‘Mind’. These two emotions must constantly change throughout the story or the Audience will get bored.
You can tap into their emotions to make your Audience feel important things. Social Visionaries like Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to the hearts of people to advance civil rights. The second level is Mind. This means speaking to the Audience’s logical minds. This is when you speak of facts and rules. Keep in mind that people make emotional decisions, and then justify it with logic. You can use this knowledge to manipulate (in a good way) your Audience.
That means you’ll want to tell a great story that speaks to your Audience’s heart and emotions in order to give them a thrilling emotional experience they’ll tell others about. The strong emotions of your Audience will let you get away with small gaps in story logic (like how does Lois Lane keep showing up everywhere Superman is???) If your Audience wants to believe this part of the story they’ll try to find a rational conclusion to justify it (even though it really doesn’t make any sense).
Remember that stories are like a roller coaster. You should give your Audience the emotional experience they deserve!
Storytelling lets the Storyteller have God-like control over the world, characters and events.
They can stylize the story to suit their tastes and objectives. Here’s a great clip from Woody Allen’s Oscar winning Annie Hall that sums up the power a Storyteller has over their character’s lives (and ability to live vicariously through the triumphs of the Protagonists). If you haven’t seen the film (shame on you!), it tells the story of a storyteller and his romance with a girl named Annie. This scene starts with Woody (playing the role of Alvie) writing a play where he gets to break up with Annie (which is the opposite of how it really happened).
To answer the question I asked in the beginning…
The Goofy Roller Coaster added a simple story, with established characters, to an otherwise boring roller coaster.
The simple application of this ‘tool’ of story made it connect with the Audience. It also involves the Audience in a ‘wish-fulfillment’ story. This means they get to experience the fantasy of learning to fly… Something we’ve all dreamt about. We’ll talk more about ‘wish-fulfillment’ in the 2nd Article in this series.
I wrote this long-ass article to help you out, so if you’d like to show your appreciation by sharing this, I’d appreciate you!
It’ll take just a few seconds and really help us spread the word about how to properly tell stories. And since it’s free your friends are going to love that you shared this story with them. Just click one of the social media buttons and write a short blurb about what you just learned and why your friends would be silly not to check it out.
Thanks for checking out Part 1 of our 3 part Storytelling Trilogy.
Remember that stories are seemingly complex things. They are simple, but it’s hard not to overcomplicate them. It’s only by mastering this unique art form that you can acquire the knowledge and skills to keep all your stories simple.
It will take lots of learning and practice to master Storytelling. But the hardest step is deciding you want to master it.
By reading this I know you’re now one step closer.