Since time began, man has been telling stories. From cave paintings to the Bible to the famous works of Plato, Shakespeare and Mozart. Every moment of your day, you are exposed to stories. You’re either telling them or consuming one. From the barista’s small talk about your accent to the boardroom executive’s reasons for why they want it done ‘this way, this time’, stories are the one thing that keeps the world spinning.
We buy things because we relate to story or a character. We fight things because we relate to a story. We make decisions because of a story we wish to create (or one we wish to validate). We tell stories to teach, to entertain, to guide, understand and to assert. We call them horror stories, success stories, tall stories, lessons, inspirations, motivations, tragedies, clichés, old wives’ tales and jokes.
Comedians, news corporations, authors, singers, songwriters, producers, directors, actors, doctors, lawyers, the cleaning lady and even you right now – are consuming, creating and publishing stories.
Some stories are more compelling than others to each of us, but of course what is ‘interesting’ is completely subjective. It’s why love and hate, war and peace, life and death, riches and rags and so on will never die. I’m sorry to all those beauty pageant queens but as long as we have the ability to imagine and create our own stories, we wouldn’t want to watch the same movie over and over and over again. We need variety. We need dichotomy.
A song tells a story in a few minutes with a catchy hook. In just a few minutes you can be completely moved and taken to a new perspective. It’s not often overly detailed content wise but it touches on keywords, notions and sets a beat that helps to fill in the blanks. Songs are quite abstract but it pleases our imaginations and it gives a beat and lyric to what we’re thinking and feeling.
A photo tells a story that doesn’t change shape but is very open to interpretation. We look intensely at it and apply our past experiences, opinions and knowledge to create the context and meaning. It’s possibly for this reason that photos are just as moving as a song. It’s less abstract – it’s a fact. It’s why art is worth so much money.
A book does it with words and occasionally pictures. Most books however rely on your ability to interpret language and imagine what it looks like in your mind. It can be immensely detailed and even to the extent that many people who watch books adapted into movies are disappointed that bits were left out. It’s amazing that the mind can imagine even more than what a film company can create even by today’s standards.
A movie tells a story in a couple of hours. Unlike the song, it gives a lot more obvious detail and unlike the picture it creates the context. Movies flesh out characters and create twists and plots to throw your mood and perspective around before landing at a destination. Hopefully this destination is a moral or a lesson or a new perspective or just a satisfying finish to the ride. It’s the combination of music, photos and books so it’s safe to say it will strike a chord with nearly every consumer.
Of course, nowadays we have text messages, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, Color, Path, FoodSpotting, Oink and the raft of a bajillion tech startups who are now busily occupying the story telling space. Sure they say they are about sharing pictures, video, short text updates but really they’re about helping people gather evidence and effectively create detailed ‘mood boards’ and ‘story boards’ for their opus – their lives. Some businesses like the news, Disney, change.org and Wikipedia to name a few – depend on stories.
We’re infatuated with story telling. We catch up with friends to ‘hear what they’ve been up to’. We share our plights and ask for help with a story. We tell stories in job interviews, on dates and even to the police officer when they pull you over for speeding. Being able to tell a compelling and believable story could mean the difference between a ticket/second date/job or not.
It’s safe to say that one’s ability to consume, create and share a story is a pretty important skill to survive as a human. Stories allow us to learn from the past, give reason to live in the present and to teach our future generations.
Maybe you’re a comic writer – your stories are succinct; or maybe you’re a song writer – your stories are metaphorical. Perhaps you’re an author and your stories have chapters; or a screenwriter who requires a set and a dialogue. Maybe you’re a combination of all the above and more. You might not be physically creating movies but your story telling and listening style might reflect that. Embrace it.
I know one of my good friends sees the entire world as lyrics. It doesn’t matter what situation or story is being fed to him, he’s always writing a song in his head. Another friend is a painter. What she sees, hears and learns get transcribed into oils.
I find it incredibly hard to digest when I see people try to sterilise situations and play down the value of the story. Yes there’s data, metrics and benchmarks but without story tellers, it’s just numbers, letters and symbols. Imagine having a bar graph without labels to create context. It’s meaningless.
The key to story telling isn’t just the label – it’s knowing what the label should say and how it’s delivered.
The key to compelling story telling – the one that makes people remember and take note – is purely based on authenticity.
It’s why they put ‘based on a true story’ at the beginning of movies. If that director is capable of shifting your mind from being entertained to being inspired/motivated/enthralled, then they are being a compelling story teller. Hopefully compelling enough for you to take something away from it and re-tell it to the next person.
If you have the ability to make others become completely involved in a story – and for them to genuinely feel something as a human and not as some robot – don’t squander that gift. Change the world and do it soon.
The world needs you.