“What IS story? And what ISN’T?” … Part 3: The Truth Aspect

“Never let truth get in the way of a good story.”
Nucky Thompson

Now that’s a sledge hammer statement, I’d say.

More truth behind it, however, than you find in most of the business “stories” out there, that’s a fact. A truth that’s just as old as story itself. Especially in the context that Steve Buscemi’s character utters it in Episode 1 of Terence Winter’s and Martin Scorsese’s no less fascinating mob series “Boardwalk Empire” – which is politics.

Unfortunately, this has no less been true for the sphere of economics and business ever since we started to trade mammals for firewood way back in the days – or bonds and shares for lies on Wall Street just recently. And as we all know, business is nothing but politics, so in a way you could say that corporate messaging is suffering the same slow death as capitalism is, or at least the locust version that brought down the Lehman Bros: People don’t buy it anymore! They want (cognitive or emotional) proof, either from
– own experience
– a friend’s recommendation (or disapproval), or
– a gut feeling that a corporation is telling a true story.

And the latter gut feeling can, today, always be unmasked as false by a friend’s or so-called “user’s” – what an irrespective word for a person getting in touch with your corporate content, I’ve always hated it … just a gut feeling …🙂 – disapproval, or also own experience. Recapitulating: Social Media = Storytelling and Social Media unmasks every corporate lie aka bad messaging story attempt, sooner or later!

OK, but: truth is not always the same in good and true storytelling. The way I see it, there are two dimensions of truth in story:

Authentic / documentary / historic / objective / non-fictional truth
This is the kind of obvious truth we all know: What is told in a story (film, book, theater play, you name it) is indeed authentic, i.e. it REALLY TOOK PLACE. The protagonist is A REAL PERSON whom we are either witnessing during a positive or negative, but in any case dramatic (in the literary sense) part of his life that is at that moment REALLY TAKING PLACE – or who is acting as a witness of this drama that REALLY HAS TAKEN PLACE sometime in the past. The classical documentary. There is a truth behind every documentary that we can investigate (if we find time and pleasure to do so), that we can prove or refute. Any well-told and well-researched history book or TV program falls into this category as much as any animal documentary or social reportage.

Inner-fictional logic and subjective truth
If objective truth was the only dimension of truth that made a good story a true story, then all Hollywood films, all great novels of literary history, every poem, every comic, etc. would be “un-true”. Which they are not. They all have an inner logic, an inner truth which they follow to the most meticulous extent – if they are well-built and well-told. Everything COULD HAVE TAKEN PLACE the way it is described, the protagonist COULD HAVE existed and experienced the described drama, even though in another or maybe even a fictional world.

Take Garcia Marquez’ “Love in the Time of Cholera” – one of the greatest love stories of the 20th century – as an example: Young Florentino Ariza and lovely Fermina Daza COULD HAVE really fallen in love with each other, secretly living this forbidden love through an orgasm of passionate love letters despite the forced separation by Fermina’s father. Florentino’s love COULD HAVE kept growing ever fonder and deeper and undying despite Fermina’s marrying handsome Dr. Juvenal Urbino, at first under arranged circumstances, then with real affection and love, which led her to exclude her former lover Florentino from her life. And after almost a century of undying, in fact evermore flourishing love to this evermore unreachable lover, Florentino COULD HAVE waited all those years for his true love, and the two of them COULD HAVE met decades later after Urbino’s tragic death to renew their old love just before the end of their lives, on an old Mississippi steamboat …

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Gee, I’m getting carried away … you SHOULD read this book, true recommendation! Simply reliving the memory of reading this novel gives me goose pimples, although the plot is of course fiction, it did NOT really take place, but it is so well told that I am convinced it COULD HAVE – and maybe has?

What I mean by all of this and what Florentino’s ordeal d’amour has to do with business story: In general, a real and good story can have either an objective, provable plot, or a truth made true by the inner logic of a fictional narrative. Both need not only the classical elements of story structure (a future post on this blog will elaborate a little more on this aspect, rest assured!), but also a capable narrator.

OK, and this is where most business stories fail, miserably:
– First of all: They have no story structure
– Then: They very seldom make use of capable and experienced narrators and storytellers; they rather use brain-washed, submissive agencies or brain-washed, inexperienced employees
– They – what is worst in the context of truth – mix truth (real people like employees or customers and real products) with fiction (corporate messaging bullet point as pre-scripted storyline and treatment structure elements that claim to be authentic) without transparently distinguishing the blurring barriers for the viewer or (abused) user.

So, to come to an end here:

If you’re a business storyteller, stick to the truth and nothing but the authentic, documentary, objective and provable truth.

If you’re a screenwriter or novelist or poet or painter or whatever artistic inventor of truths, make sure you adhere to the inner-logic of this fictional truth. But you can also – and that’s kind of unfair – not only invent truths, but also combine invented truths with real, authentic, objective and historically provable truths and still tell a great and credible story. Grrr, damn these artists!

But then again: Life ain’t fair, so get over it, oh Business Storyteller!

And if you DO mix objective truth with fictional elements, you better be as intelligent, bold and open about is a the desirable brand Jaguar in their recent advertising feature film for its new F-type model called “Desire” – a “story worth watching” I actually wanted to write about today, but to tell you the truth: I got carried away with writing about truth.😉

Very well then, I’ll do that next time, because:

The story goes on … here … soon.

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