I think the first lines of a book are incredibly important.
A well crafted opening is like opening the door to a dinner party and getting the first aromas of the menu and doing your first scans of the room–you can tell an awful lot about how the evening might go in those initial seconds.
I read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road for the first time in college as a Freshman writing major. It was a Christmas gift from my girlfriend at the time. I was never the same for both the gift or the girl. It was the first time a novel spoke to the core of my frustrations as a young adult–the feelings that the world I was being asked to embrace was nothing I was interested in being a part of.
These are Kerouac’s opening lines.
“I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won't bother to talk about, except that it had something to do with the miserably weary split-up and my feeling that everything was dead.”
I knew I had found a kindred spirit.
Compare that with Jane Austin’s opening lines to Pride and Prejudice.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Those are very different books, and we know that from the outset. Every line that comes after must align itself to be reckoned against that opening mood and sentiment.
The exposition of a book, those first pages, set the stage for everything that will come after. It sets the baseline for any growth and change that takes place from the opening sentences to the last.
The exposition of a narrative, or what I often refer to as the hook, is where the writer lays out the background and context for the moment we jump into the story. It provides us with the characters, setting, idiosyncrasies, and beliefs that will influence the way the protagonist(s) behave or not as they face the first tastes of conflict and tension. It impacts the shift that takes place at the climax, and it will act as a measuring device as we look back on our story from the vantage point of a resolution.
When we are talking about story-driven messaging for brands, when we shift our focus to marketing; advertising; and public relations, we absolutely want to talk about the characters and settings important to our narrative, but we also want to talk about our core values; our mission; and the things that keep us motivated when things get tough–that is the context that our entire narrative should be filtered through, and it’s important information for our readers to know.
The easy way is rarely the best way, and this is especially true with exposition and using storytelling in your brand development. Sure, you could tell people that one of your core values is inclusion or efficiency, but it would be better to demonstrate that with earned media and social media posts that show you practicing those values in real-time.
It is easy to post a headshot of key employees with an introductory paragraph that tells people all about them. It is far more interesting to show them regularly in a way that highlights their personality through things that matter to them or by seeing them in action.
I think it’s important to allow people to make their own assumptions about who we are and what we’re about. If we do our job well in story-driven communication, those inferences will lead them to the things we have written down in our branding guide. Your brand values should jump off the page not because you told someone what they were, but because they are clear by the way you go about your business.
As Folklore moves into its third year of operation, I am constantly amazed at how much work we continue to get through social media. And to the person, those clients all say roughly the same thing, “I followed your posts for a while, and it just became clear that you were different from other agencies. You seemed warm and approachable, and I thought, ‘If I ever have to hire someone, these look like people I’d like to work with.’”
That’s when I knew we were being successful. And honestly, that’s when I began trusting that the way we did things, if we were allowed to do it our way, worked.
So, the question I’ll leave you with is, “What are you doing to set the stage for your story? How are you letting customers and potential clients know what you believe in or what they can expect when they do business with you?”
Because if you’re not setting the stage well in the exposition of your narrative, the rest of the story seems too random to care about.