Just 2 more days, and the cart closes for my video course, Wake Up Your Prose: Description Unpacked. You can go here to find out more – or to purchase it! Cart closes this Friday, August 2nd, at 11:59 pm PST.
- Storytelling is a necessary skill
- The ability to tell a story is critical to effective communication with your customer
- The correct sequencing of events, the correct delineation of causation, and the correct placement of emphasis, is vital to conveying a message of any sort [BTW, can you find the grammatical error in this sentence?]
Yesterday, we discussed the first statement; today we’ll discuss the second.
Storytelling is critical to effective communication with your
Now hear this: Your reader is your customer.
You are writing for your readers.
This doesn’t mean that you must look over your shoulder as you write, making sure you will impress your audience. In fact, that is the easiest way to sound pretentious. It also doesn’t mean that you need to pander to your audience’s opinions; that will make you sound wishy-washy.
The dynamic here is both to write for Ideal Reader and to stay true to your values and your writing goals. It’s a delicate balance, and it requires you to have a solid idea of what you want to say as well as why (i.e., your goal). For the how, that’s where my new course and my website come in.
We’ll return to the Why in a little bit.
Using Show and Tell to communicate
In Wake Up Your Prose, there is a module called “Show” and a module called “Tell.” One of the things that I emphasize in both modules is that you need to know which device would be the more effective way to communicate with your
reader in any given sentence, paragraph, or chapter.
For example, if your goal for a particular paragraph is for your amateur-spy protagonist to go to the supermarket and buy a bottle of milk in order to get some vital information from the cashier, then you don’t need to Show your readers the protagonist’s every thought or emotion as she drives to the store. Neither do you need to Show your readers the effect of the milk purchase (e.g., her fingers were numb from holding the carton). Just Tell the reader that she went to the supermarket, and report that she received secret information from the cashier as she was paying.
Certainly, make your prose interesting! Don’t say: “Joanna went to the supermarket to buy a carton of milk. She walked to the checkout line. As she was paying, the cashier whispered something in her ear.” How about something like this:
There was a dizzying array of milk choices in the dairy section: Whole, lowfat, nonfat, and skim, and lactose-free versions of each of those. Joanna grabbed a carton with purple writing on it, and made her way to the second cashier on the right.
This short passage Tells us that Joanna didn’t need the milk (she grabbed a random carton) and that she needed to pay at a specific cashier’s station. That’s all we needed to know.
What we can learn about storytelling from Apple
One of my readers who commented on yesterday’s post added the link to a short Ted Talk about using first the Why to sell, and only then moving on to the What and the How. He used Apple Computers as an example. Here’s Apple’s Why:
“[In] everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo; we believe in thinking differently.”
Only after that does Apple tell us the How (our computers are easy to use and well-built) and then the What (we sell computers).
I propose that we should consider employing the Apple storytelling sales model to our writing:
- Why am I writing this piece? What do I want my customers/readers to get out of it?
- How am I going to accomplish this goal?
- What am I going to write?
Applying the Apple model to our storytelling
Let’s take my much-used Abraham Lincoln biography example:
- I’m writing a book because I want to inspire teenagers to reach high and work hard to attain their goals (Why).
- I’ll do this by using little-known facts and anecdotes to tell the story of Abraham Lincoln. I’ll Show how Lincoln’s personality was formed using the following: short vignettes of Lincoln’s childhood and teenage years, made-up but realistic dialogue between Lincoln and his mentors, and examples of his challenges and triumphs during his young adulthood (How).
- I will write a 12-chapter book for middle-schoolers, using age-appropriate language and vocabulary. I’ll try to put a bit of humor in, too (What).
You can make this as simple or as complex as you want:
- I have a story inside me that needs to get out. I want to make my mark on the world (Why).
- I’m going to write a novel (How).
- It will be about a race car driver (What)
Everyone loves a story. Using storytelling – or, if you will, narrative – techniques in your writing is an outstanding way to communicate effectively with your reader. These tips should help, but if you want to go deeper, consider joining my course on descriptive writing. You have another 2 days to decide: Don’t miss out!
See you tomorrow for our 3rd and final installment on storytelling. And…