Everyone is jumping on the storytelling bandwagon. I say that not in condescension, but in gladness. Before KONY 2012 went viral and was touted as a new media sensation, storytelling was already recognized as a crucial vehicle for awareness. Done well, it made all the difference between Hollywood classics versus duds, election winners versus losers, lasting brands versus unknown obscures.
It’s important, however, to distinguish between personal stories, everyday stories, and universal stories. The audience for each is different, and any storyteller will know that element is key.
With personal stories, certain events and thoughts are singularly significant to yourself and not very relevant to others. Bigger life milestones typically lend more mainstream value. While our stories do indeed lie in the details, our biographies only come to life for others once they are structured around these bigger events.
Everyday stories- “today I did this”- are usually only interesting to people pertinent to the occasions being described. For instance, your trip to the grocery store and run-in with an old friend may only find ears among your spouse or close friends, if even. Unless, of course, there is some broader lesson; the trick in not boring people with the tedium of the everyday is drawing out a greater significance and making it clear to others.
Universal stories are what we’re all drawn to. These are what come to mind when we think of storytelling. For years, stories have been told in easily digestible themes: Good overcoming Evil, Heroes versus Villains, Love conquering all. Trite as they are, there is a universal level of truth that makes these messages extremely powerful. They tug at our heartstrings, allow us to cross the barriers of time, and experience the similarities between ourselves (real and imagined). It’s why we love stories. They affirm who we are.
For organizations and individuals seeking to scale – meaning they want to appeal to a large audience- it’s important to strike a fundamental chord. This doesn’t merely mean communicating. This means inciting something within the audience, a core belief or value, that gives meaning to our life.
Wall-E and Toy Story director Andrew Stanton gave a phenomenal TED talk on Clues to a Good Story. He says that all good stories should give a promise that what will come is worth the audience’s time, all the while, leading them to believe they are crafting the conclusion themselves. “Don’t give them 4; give them 2+ 2.”
Whether on an individual, day-to-day, or universal level, we spend a significant chunk of time constructing stories to make sense of our world. The difference simply lies in which of these three levels we immerse ourselves in.
I’m intrigued at the universal level. My current curiosity is how to celebrate start-ups and self-starters as a norm. I want to create a sticky but healthy narrative around seriously good ideas that push society to new heights. Through stories, we can establish a new paradigm about the upcoming generation, a generation which is bound to usher in a new era, one where meaningful projects are not anomalies and everyone is able to unlock their full potential. And while we’re at it, save the world from doomsday. Yes, Hollywood is calling- bring on the cliche “save the world” theme – but isn’t that what we live for?
A writing ingredient which, like a dash of salt, I can’t write without is: “Start as close to the end as possible.” (Thanks Kurt Vonnegut.) Disney tales end in happiness. Good triumphs over evil and the characters live happily ever after. I hope my 2 + 2 yields wonder. This story, our story, whatever it becomes, shall end in genuine wonder: wonder at the possibilities, wonder at what we could create if we just lived our lives with intention, wonder at what happens when talent is put to use. That’s the story I aim to create. The best stories infuse wonder.