|Storytelling isn’t an art. It’s a science. Every kid knows how to tell stories. And it’s cute to be a storyteller when you’re a kid.But when you put structure to writing and storytelling you take it from science to art.
Find out how this works with storytelling.
Most stories start up with once upon a time, well at least the stories that we learned when we were kids.
Well, imagine if Goldilocks and the Three Bears started right in the middle. That’s what we’re going to cover in this section. We’re going to start off with stories that start right in the middle. How to keep stories fresh and engaging?
We’re going to look at the 90% principle and we will repeat that several times in this series in different ways, but you’ll learn the 90% principle. Then, there’s counterflow. What is counterflow? Flow and counterflow, but what does counterflow involve? Finally, the pivotal moment, how to turn the story on a dime?
Part 1: How to Keep Your Stories Fresh and Engaging
Let’s get into story telling. Let’s start off with, how to keep your stories fresh and engaging? If you ask a photographer to take a picture of say a glass. Well most of us will just stand up, take our phones out and take a picture from wherever we are standing. We don’t go close to the glass. We don’t bother to see the angle of the glass, we don’t bother about anything. We just rip out the phone, rip out the camera, take a picture and we are done.
That is not interesting. From a photographers point of view it is well you want me to take a picture of this glass, what kind of lighting, which angle. When you look at the glass there are about a million permutations, the type of light, the type of color, the type of angle. All these things come into play when a photographer is taking a picture of a single glass just an ordinary glass, and this is how you have to approach your content.
When you are talking just about anything you have to understand what I am really going at. Why angle am I going at? Why kind of lighting am I portraying? With story telling you have to know what is it that you are talking about? If you are talking about something that is immutable, insurmountable, well you have things like the Himalayas, and you have these mountains that cannot be moved.
You also have other problems, other things that personal stories that talk about things that you could not move, that wouldn’t budge, so you have case study where maybe a recording company didn’t budge and the Beetles just had to find another way. Once you have got that kind of understanding of well, what I am really saying here. What is that word? What is that phrase?
No you can keep your content fresh and engaging. You can tell the same story, that same glass and look at it at different angles and different light and different ways and you can approach that same story a million different ways and customers never get fed up. However, you also have to understand that we the storytellers get tired of our stories long before customers do.
You look at someone like say Frank Sinatra, and he is saying, say ‘New York, New York’ and every time he went out people were happy to listen to the new songs, but they wanted New York, New York. They wanted him to sing that song or they wanted him to sing ‘My Way.’ They wanted those things that they could attach themselves to understand, and so yes there are million ways to represent a story or a million ways to represent a sales pitch but also remember that people love the way that you have always done it, so don’t just change for the sake of changing.
In summary, there are different ways to approach the story, just know what you’re talking about and secondly once you have that run it. You don’t have to keep changing it. This takes us to the second part which is how do we make the story more dramatic. Where do we start?
When we are growing up we are accustomed to listen to stories that start off with once upon a time and the problem with stories that start off with once upon a time, it takes too much time to get to the main gist of the story. Let’s think of a story like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and you know how that story runs. It starts out with once upon time there was Goldilocks and the Three Bears etc.
You don’t really want to start there. That is fine for a kid. That is fine for someone that is just falling off to sleep. Your audience is not falling off to sleep. You want to wake them up remember. Where does your story start? It starts right in the middle. The drama is right in the middle of the story. Goldilocks is there on the bed. She is looking up and suddenly there are three bears looking at her.
That part is far more dramatic than once upon a time there was Goldilocks and she went into this forest or she went to see these three bears. You got to work out that the story is more powerful at the center and so you write your story or your figure out your story or you figure out your case study and go right to the center and go which is the dramatic part and pull that part out, and put it right at the start.
That is what the movies do. Very rarely will you get a movie that starts to build up slowly. A movie will start smack in the middle and then they will go to the start somewhere along the line and then build up the story right to the middle again. That is what you have to do? You have to go right into the core of the story, pull out the drama, put it right at the middle, and then bring out the beginning. It is middle, beginning, back to middle and end of story.
That’s what makes a good story. That is the mistake that a lot of people make. They don’t start off in the middle. Then in the end or right to the middle by which time the audience was fallen asleep. You don’t want them to fall asleep. This is not a kid story. This is a wake them up story. This is a story that they will remember. We have looked at two ways, the first is start in the middle and the way to keep your stories fresh and engaging. Let’s move to the third thing which is very important. It is called the 90% principle.
Whenever you are telling stories, one of the things that people tend to do is put too much information in the story. Let’s say you telling a story about Jack and then Mary comes in and then Charlotte and then Anita, and now you have got too many elements that the person has to deal with. People often tend to make up stories by putting all of these elements and you don’t want to have that.
You want to have 90% of your story in place, so when a person is listening to your story, they don’t have to make up 90%. It is only 10% of that story that they need to figure out. When we look at a story in the brain audit which is the book, you are talking about putting bags on a flight and then standing at a conveyer belt or the carousel and getting those bags off the flight.
What has happened there is that 90% of the story is in place. You have been on a flight. You know that you have to put them on. You have to take them off and the thing that has changed, the elements that have changed are just the factor of the seven red bags, and that one bag goes missing. When you listen to that story on the brain audit, what we have here is 90% of the information is already in place.
Let’s take another example. Let’s say you were trying to get into a car and you are fiddling with the key and it is not opening and you know it looks like your car and it is still not opening. We have tried to do something like that. We have tried to get into a wrong hotel room or try to get into a wrong car, 90% of that story is in place, 10% has changed and that 10% is what makes it personal, what makes it your own.
This is not the case when you are talking about case studies. Case studies unfold in ways that are completely different from personal stories. The personal stories are get the audience on your side. Case studies are something that someone else did. I would always recommend, ‘A’ that you have personal stories and ‘B’ that 90% of that story is already in the customer’s brain and you are just tweaking 10%. Now that we know what the 90% is all about let’s move to counterflow.
Part 2: Counterflow
When we write a story or when we recount a story what we tend to think is that the only way to get a story going is go forward. You think of a sequence, but there is also anti-sequence, or what I would call counterflow. There is flow and there is counterflow. It is almost like someone is headed towards success and then there is a barrier and that slows down the story, takes it in a different flow as it were.
When you look at the seven red bag story or when you listen to the seven red bag story it seems like everything is going fine. One red bag is coming off the carousel so you put all these bags in the flight and then one came off and the second came off and the third came off and now there is counterflow. There is the green bag, orange bag and a polka dot bag and then of course there is flow again which is the fourth bag comes out and the fifth bag and then the six bag.
Now there is flow again but then the seventh bag is missing and that’s counterflow again. That keeps the interest. When you are looking at any kind of story, you have to look intricate and go is there is a flow and counterflow. Is it going in favor and then slightly off, disfavor. That is what makes great stories. You don’t want to always have the sequence. You also want to have this flow and counterflow. This takes us to the last one which is the pivotal moment. There is a moment where you can turn the story around. Lets’ find out how.
Part 3: The Pivotal Moment
A lot of writers are worried about writing something that is boring and you have to remember that there is no such thing as boring. Let me explain. Let me give you an example. Let’s say I am giving you the story. I remember the night we were driving home on June 21st. It was dark, rainy. Even slightly foggy and then I saw it. In the middle of the freeway it looked like someone had stopped their car, and so I swerved violently to the right and the next moment to my horror a car zoomed right past me. The car was hurtling down the wrong side of the freeway with no headlights. Moments later we heard the sickening crush of metal behind us.
Did that paragraph get your attention? It did, didn’t it, because it is dramatic. The car was on the wrong side of the freeway. Yes the driver the drunk, and yes he would have hit us head on at about 70-80 miles an hour if I hadn’t swerved. Stories such as this one make for enormous heart pounding drama but what if your story is less dramatic. For example, let’s say you went to the post office today and there is a parcel waiting for you.
Now there are five different scenarios that could pop up just from the post office. You could be waiting for this parcel for a long time and it excites you now and you could be not expecting any parcel and then finding a parcel just brightens up your day. You could be expecting a parcel and get someone else’s parcel which leads to disappointment or you could be expecting a parcel, get the parcel, but it is the start to a series of events that you could not have predicted, or you could be expecting a parcels but the contents are broken, and this leads to some other events.
This is just a parcel stuff and you probably got bored with all the variations but the point is just very simple. The point is that there is no such thing as a boring event. What is boring is the way in which we put it forward, because if you are a Hollywood director you would see drama in everything because any incident leads to another incident which leads to the third, fourth, fifth incident.
Any incident can start off being perfectly good and then turn horribly bad, or any incident could be terrible to begin with and then turn out to be amazingly fabulous. What we are really talking about is a pivotal moment and that pivotal movement is simply a moment which spins in some direction, either it gets better or worse. Any moment can be a pivotal moment.
You have a story from your life and you say well that is really mundane. I woke up today and then something happened. What is that moment? Let’s take a dramatic moment. Let’s say a bully is beating you up at one moment but then what happens next? Do you stumble? Does the bully hit his head on the table and knock himself out [inaudible 00:14:34]. Does someone come to your rescue or do you get beaten up black and blue?
The point is that you could be doing anything like eating a spaghetti, a bowl of spaghetti, and the next moment something changes. One movement you are driving down the road and something changes. One movement you are getting drenched in the downpour and then somethings changes. Every situation can go from good to bad, bad to good and then keep bouncing back.
All you have to decide is what is the pivotal movement what is that movement that the story goes off in a tangent? When you have that movement what you do is you keep the story going ahead. There is no such thing as a boring story. There is a boring way in which to put the story. If you have a pivotal moment? If you have things happening along the way then suddenly things happened.
Well, that sounds crazy doesn’t it, but that’s exactly what happens. What is your pivotal moment? That is what you have got to decide and once you decide that you don’t have the problem of being boring any more.
Okay, we have had enough, now let’s get to the summary. Can we now get to the summary? Summary, summary, summary, summary.
Okay, let’s get to the summary. We have talked about how to make stories memorable and really we will talk about it again, but the point is that if you don’t have that idea, that one word in your mind, it is very difficulty. That is what really makes it memorable from there you get your case studies, from there you get your personal stories, and from there you get your analogies. That was the first thing.
The second thing was starting in the middle. You want to start a story in the middle. It is nice to start a story at once upon a time but starting in the middle that is where it rocks. The third thing was the 90% principle and the 90% principle is very simple. Your story is not ordinary. It’s a great story. You just have to tweak 10% of it. Make it your own and 90% principle works.
The fourth thing we did was counterflow. The story is going in one direction. Hold it back. Turn it around. Make that whole story jiggle a bit, and that is what causes counterflow, and finally we looked at the pivotal movement. Something is happening and this is similar to counterflow in a way. Something is happening and then something else happens. What is that something else. Turn it around. The point is that there is no such thing as a boring story. There is no such thing as I am only going into the post office and something is happening. Be the story teller. Tell that story.
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