Why you suck at storytelling - thoughts on the most difficult craft in the world
Why you suck at storytelling
Thoughts on the most difficult craft in the world
You know a good story when you hear one. But asking why exactly you liked or not liked it will leave you thinking. Identifying the key elements of a good story is not easy as it is intuitive and also different for most people depending on the person’s mood, education and worldview.
But there are a few general things that should be considered.
Make me feel
Imagine a story - being told countless times more or less successfully.
Would you tell it again? No?
Why not? – You do it every day to yourself!
Hollywood does it too, with great financial success. Actually, repeating a well-known story seems to be more successful than being original (which is always an experiment: you do not know how it will end). People like to spend their time and money on things they know and TRUST.
However, not the product (or service) is bought, but the FEELING that goes with it. Chocolate makes happy. Action movies are uplifting. RomComs cheer you up. The feeling of being able to afford a holiday on a tropical island fills you with joy.
A story does not have to be original - it never is. But if it PROMISES to make you feel a certain way, then people are more likely to try it out. If it is original, people hesitate, and that hesitation COSTS YOU.
I know this from experience.
Don’t get me wrong: IT IS NOT EASY being uplifting, motivational or making somebody happy etc. So, what’s the story? That’s a different problem – there are a couple of archetypes of stories (I will cover that on another blog post). As long as the story is impersonal (far from your personal experience), it does not really matter as long the ending gives a sense a SATISFACTION, a feeling of cadence, like in music.
When the story gets PERSONAL, suddenly everything matters. It is like the difference between “Infinity War” and “Roma”.
Why you suck at Storytelling
Again: everybody knows a good story when he sees one. It is also a matter of taste, but in general, a “good story” is accepted by most people as such. The same is true for music, a painting or any other artistic outcome. Most people can identify a “good story”. However, most people cannot tell, why it is a “good story” (song, painting, etc.).
The channels of distribution have been democratized, and that’s a good thing. Gatekeepers aren’t gone but the way to success is rather different nowadays than it was 20 years ago.
So, how do we find good stories? Who is telling us where to find them?
It’s easy it write a story, to come up with a song or make a sculpture. There is plenty of “art” out there and that’s fabulous. However, it is almost impossible to write an INSPIRING story (song etc.). There is no formula; it does not even have to be new or unpredictable – it is “just” a combination of education, subtext and personal experience and interpretation that resonates with people, with society, with culture.
What helps, when you want to become a serious artist, is analyzing your favorite art: why you like it and why it is considered great – and how to re-produce this feeling you sense when consuming your favorite art. It is sometimes difficult, when you do not know the context, or the artist and what he stands for. Analyzing is a great way of finding out what works and what not.
If you do not do it, you will continue to suck at storytelling, or any other art. On the other hand, when you start to emulate your idols you become better day by day. And finally, you will find your own voice that makes you YOU.
Think of most Hollywood movies: their respective screenplays usually follow a certain pattern (even by the minute, you can time it!). But do they “talk to you”? Are they really “good” in a sense that they speak to you on an artistic level? In short: are the ART?
Most would say: no. What’s the big difference between the old and new “Star Wars” movies, between “The Dark Knight” and the “Dark Knight Rises” or between the first and the last season of “Game of Thrones”? Or let’s ask: Why is “Breaking Bad” or “Better Call Saul” (or many other shows) consistently so good?
Meaningful Stories – Becoming personal!
How to you get somebody interested in your story (when you are not already got a brand name people recognize)?
Well, it is “easy”: Find something personal that many people can relate to.
Like: How to find your personal freedom.
Or: How to be successful.
Or: How to find a partner.
Find something that people are searching for, make it personal and accessible.
The first step is to actually come up with and write a story. Do you think people can relate or identify with it? If not, why?
Never forget: It is never the audience’s fault – the audience knows what they like.
Imagine you did everything right and you got a great story. The next step would be showing it to the world. However, that is a very different story. You cannot tell the same story for marketing your story. You need another meaningful story.
Usually, it’s is the meaningful story that actually counts. But, I have to admit, it is the hardest thing to do.
Find a way to be RELEVANT for others. Then they will find you and stay.
Change my life!
Which story changed your life?
There is a good chance others also resonate to that story.
The first thing you hear when you offer something people don’t know or trust is: NO! Therefore you need to give them a reason to care for and trust what you are doing and offering is valuable.
Make the story PERSONAL. And: show, not tell. Showing results build trust.
Why do we love/hate certain stories, others we forget in an instant? Because we have either first-hand experience or can easily imagine the emotional trouble of the protagonists while superficial characters dissolve fast in our memory.
When somebody loses his child, suffers of cancer or misses his love, we feel sorry when we hear about it (but without a bodily reaction). However, we weep like a baby when we SEE it happen. Make us see it – then we feel it too.
Or: you do not laugh when somebody tells you he slipped on a banana peel. But “when you see it” (or tells you in a way you can see it) you do.
It is as simple as that.
Now it’s your turn.
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