Storytelling runs through the very heart of what it means to be human.
In a very real sense, we’re all living out our own personal story, and everything around us is living out its story, whether that be an old chair which was built by your grandfather or the squirrel in your backyard who collects nuts in preparation for the Winter.
Storytelling connects us and brings us in touch with something deeper than ourselves, so it’s no surprise that artists and brands have used storytelling to communicate their own vision for decades as well.
But what makes a great story? And how can we become better storytellers? Whether you’re a solopreneur or part of a team working to tell your brand’s story or a creative crafting a story of your own, the key elements of a compelling story – and how we work to better communicate those things through storytelling – are the same.
Storytelling is the essential human activity. The harder the situation, the more essential it is.
– Tim O’Brien
Storytelling has many uses.
It’s not just invaluable in business, where brands live and die based on how well a company tells their story and communicates to their target customer. Storytelling is also important to writers and content creators of all kinds, communicating fiction and nonfiction stories alike, beliefs, and important life lessons.
But, really, it’s something we’re all fascinated with to some degree. Everyone has a dream of writing their own book, and everyone has stories that define their lives.
Whether you’re writing a book or telling a brand story, here are three things I’ve found that make for a great story:
Learn what makes people tick
Before anything else, you need to learn what makes the people you’re crafting your story for tick.
If they’re leads and potential customers, study your market. If they’re readers, study their interests. You need to know the people you’re crafting this story for because it will influence your story on every level.
By knowing more about your potential customer or reader, you’re able to guide your story in a way that doesn’t make any critical mistake that would turn them away while including elements that they identify with on a deeper level.
Consume the masterpieces to learn
You’re working to become a better storyteller, so take time to start studying the best examples of great storytelling you can find. Identify the best stories in your space, whether it’s Star Wars or Apple’s legendary brand story, make a list, and take time to study why they work and what they could have done better.
The cool thing about this is, as you study more and more masterpieces such as this, you begin to identify what makes a great story and where stories falter. Once you get to this point, you know your storytelling ability has really begun to level up because you can identify what makes a great story without having to consult anything outside yourself.
Study relevant stories to identify tropes and similar themes
Similar to studying the masterpieces, but these are stories within your market.
By studying the stories of competing brands or other books in your genre, you can begin to identify similar themes that stick out. In the fiction world these are called tropes (every “hero’s journey” type story has a wise old mentor, a moment where they seem defeated and must rise up, etc.), however, these similar themes exist in every type of story.
Take time to both identify and study the stories that exist within your space and discover what people like, what works, and what they could have done better. For brands, study their social channels. For books, study Amazon reviews and forums where readers discuss the content.
Crafting a great story can be intimidating because there’s a lot to it. However, it doesn’t have to be. If you work on the above points you can ensure your brand story or novel is of a high quality, injecting some of the magic of the great stories in its space and not making any of the critical mistakes that could turn away potential customers or readers. Handle these major points and your chance of crafting a great story goes up by leaps and bounds.
It takes work, but the reward for crafting a great story is something that’s hard to put your finger on. Storytelling runs through the very fabric of our lives and learning to create a great one is as worthwhile an effort as any you could devote your life to.