A lot of people talk about tracing their life through music. I trace mine through the stories I was told.
Some of my earliest memories are of my mother reading to me at night. I had a children’s Bible story book that placed the ancient narratives next to deeply moody renaissance-styled artwork. I remember being fixated on the pictures as I listened.
My childhood was filled with eighties cartoons–G.I. Joe, Transformers, MASK, and a host of others. I believe I found the Hardy Boys books in middle school and read through most of my uncle’s collection, my cousin and I swapping books back and forth as fast as we could finish them. It’s about that time that I read Tom Sawyer, my first introduction to real literature.
High School brought me Shakespeare, Herman Hesse, and Tolkein, but it also brought me Seinfeld, Frasier, and Friends on Thursday nights.
College introduced me to Kerouac’s roman à clef adventures and Frank Herbert’s Universe of Dune.
I could go on forever. Those are just the high notes up to adulthood.
The point is that the stories we tell and the stories we are told matter. They matter more than we probably realize. They guide us and influence the way we see the world. They introduce us to the heroes we want to be and the injustices that we want to fight. Without them, we only have a small window of the world in which to grow through our own experiences. With them, we are able to traverse time and place, real and imaginary, in our efforts to make the most of ourselves.
What’s more is that science has proven that our brains are, quite literally, wired for storytelling. It’s how it sorts information and recalls information. It’s how we learned through the ages which mushrooms were safe to eat, the best way to go about getting the attention of a potential mate, and which people could be trusted.
If you want to shape a child or population, control the stories they hear and internalize. It's a tried and true method practiced by parents, schools, fascist regimes, and advertising agencies going back to the beginnings of human communication.
The Basic Parts of Almost Every Story You've Ever Heard
While each story is unique, they almost always follow some variation of a basic format: Exposition (Hook), Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
Exposition: The Setup, or what I like to call the hook, where we meet the characters, get to know when and where the story takes place, and get any background information we'll need to get started – it’s the baseline for the story, the starting point from which we’ll measure our growth at the resolution.
Conflict: This is the event that sets everything in motion. It is the big bang that moves us off of our baseline and forces us to adapt and grow in order to bring things back into a new stasis.
Rising Action: Once the conflict has started things in motion, the rising action is the series of tensions and events, trials and consequences that knot up the roped thread of our storyline and moves us along toward the climax.
Climax: The point of the story where the protagonist has their breakthrough, either internally or externally (or both) and knows what must be done to resolve the tension of the rising action.
Falling Action: The series of events that unravel the knots caused by the conflict and rising action as the protagonist(s) attempt to find a new stasis.
Resolution: The resolution of a story is also called the dénouement, a french word that means, “to untie.” That is what the resolution does, it unties all the leftover knots that weren’t taken care of in the falling action. It sets the new static baseline. If a story is a part of a series, the resolution may foreshadow the next conflict that is coming.
Chances are most of you didn’t come here for a lesson in writing or even storytelling, but too bad, I gave you one anyway, and if your eyes glazed over during that last part, I’m going to encourage you to muster the focus to go back and read it, really read it, because it’s important.
Storytelling has become such an en vogue idea. It’s an industry buzzword and a cultural zeitgeist, but I still believe that finding agencies or professionals that truly incorporate storytelling into their strategy is rare.
Five years ago, while sitting around a strategy session at an agency I was working at, I was openly mocked by leadership for suggesting we use storytelling as our strategic template. Why? I think it has a lot to do with a massive paradigm shift away from an industrial, transactional economy to one that is predicated on attention and connections.
To be fair, they truly believed that what they were doing was telling the stories of their clients even though they never thought about the story as a whole.
Five years later, I feel confident my suggestions have been vindicated. Story-Driven Communication Strategies should be your focus. We’re no longer looking for the best price. We’re looking for the best story. We want brand relationships that say something about who we are as people. Who we do business with has become a part of our identity because they become a part of the story we share with others, not only in the line at the grocery store, but even more so over social media. In the age of the influencer, everything we do matters, sure, but also everything we purchase and use makes a statement about what you believe in. I’m not saying you have to like it. I sure don’t. I’m just telling you what the reality is.
I'd love to talk to any of you on how to unravel that particular knot over coffee, tea, or a cocktail, but that's for another day. My job, and the job of all of us at Folklore isn't to work out of ivory towers. Our job is to help you cut through the noise in a crowded marketplace and gather attention for all the right reasons.
That is why storytelling matters more than ever. Let me be more specific, that is why intentional storytelling matters more than ever. If you are trying to build a brand, whether it is organizational or personal, your story needs to be authentic and articulate so that people can hear it and say, “Now there is someone I’d like to know more about.” In a market where attention is what matters most, getting someone to say or think something like that is your first step to getting where you need to be.
Stick around in the coming weeks, and I’m going to break out each of those key aspects of the story arc and show you how to use them to your advantage.
Until then, go back and read the list again and check out the graphic. Feel free to save it to your phone or computer to look back on. It’s a good one to have around.
Until then, go write a story worth listening to.