brand storytelling, business storytelling, change, conflict, corporate storytelling, drama, expectation, hero, hero 1.0, hero 2.0, life, Marketing and Advertising, narration, plot, Robert McKee, story arc, surprise, true story
A couple of months ago, I introduced a schematic, illustrative version of what I believe is the essence of any good, real story: the “StorycodeX”. A very basic how-to and what-to-include. A code with must-have elements, but also a code that allows “X” variations, no one-fits-all execution, but a necessary basis in order to reach your storytelling purpose; be it entertainment, information, infotainment, messaging, catharsis, action, … you name it.
It started off like this, with Story Arc Phase 1:
Isn’t that course almost every one of today’s so-called corporate or business “stories” is taking? It begins somewhere … and goes nowhere. Nuthin happenin. Boring! Like totally.
Gladly, there is always an end to this misery, but it’s not a story’s end, it’s an mpeg’s end, and sometimes this misery is a loooong torture. Such communication products are indeed a serious hazard to our mental and physical health, no kiddin, head injuries from falling asleep and banging your head on the table being just one of many to caution.
So, what we at least need is to rouse a little bit of EXPECTATION on the audience’s side, EXPECTATION that the above arrow is actually leading somewhere. And this somewhere needs to be a place we actually want to travel to:
OK, now what happens when you create high EXPECTATIONS? Right: You’re gonna have to deliver. Deliver something interesting to the audience, something you ex- or implicitly promised in the first phase or your story arc. This suggestion can be made by means of story content (meaning the What, action or words) or story making (meaning the How of story creation, music, visuals, etc.). But if you create false hopes with cheesy, cheap special effects or bull-shit-bingo slogans, and then the above arrow goes on in an infinity loop of boredom, and there also goes your audience!
To avoid this mess, Story Arc Phase 2 kicks in:
Ideally, this something happening is something SURPRISING, but definitely it needs to be something meaningful. Meaningful not for you as producer or maybe even the narrator, if you have one, but meaningful for the immanent story logic and its hero(es):
Such an incident again needs to ignite a new sense of EXPECTATION, a hope that this SURPRISING development in scene or action will actually lead somewhere, somewhere else, somewhere new, somewhere unexpected. Because: If just anything happens, expected or not, and the dotted arrow of boredom we started off with slithers on as before: There goes your audience, again. But this time it’s not only bored, now it’s also angry! Because you fooled them, lured them it into watching, listening or reading for longer than initially planned. And then (gee, you actually almost had them!): disappointment galore. Thank you for flying with Never Come Back Airlines!
What the audience was hoping, ideally even gagging for was: a turn in the story’s plot, in the hero’s life, leading him (or her, or them) to a different place (literally or psychologically, spiritually) as a consequence of everything that happened before. Hero and audience are confronted with a different world than when the narration commenced, and both need to deal with it:
This altered direction is indeed a story’s (and in fact life’s) vital ingredient #1, an ingredient every good story ever told has (literally making story a metaphor for life). I’m talking about CHANGE:
But no CHANGE without life’s vital ingredient #2: CONFLICT. Corporations hate this beast, lock it up in a cage, try to kill it in every part of their shiny, the-world-is-perfect advertising and PR, but the son of a gun somehow always manages to escape!
Life is full of CONFLICT. CONFLICT is life’s spice, the only ingredient that really fosters CHANGE – as in story. So, if life or a story just steadily flows like a calm river without anything happening, without any CONFLICT occurring, the result might be great for meditation, but when it comes to purposeful, infotaining storytelling, what you get is one great big “YAWN”. This CONFLICT need not be explicit or even literally happening: inner conflict or narrations in retrospect are very often even more exiting modes of storytelling than the in-your-face alternative.
So, somewhere above (or below or in the midst of) every plot, every action (f)lies:
CONFLICT, however, should never be a self-serving element, a shocker, a special effect. It needs to happen to someone, this someone being (oh, quelle surprise!) a human being. Not a product. Not a solution. Not a service. Generally: Not a thing. So if anyone comes around asking you to create a campaign where “the product is the hero”: Fire him! And if you can’t fire him, cause he’s your boss, please argue him out of this idea. “The product is the hero” communication efforts are the most dangerous of all in regards to the afore-mentioned banging-your-head-on-the-table hazard!
Seriously, I know it sounds real wacky and kind of common sense, but decades of engineers and product managers becoming part- or full-time communicators, decades of one-way make-believe and hiding-lies-behind-effects advertising is over. Maybe not completely, yet. Maybe not today, completely. But soon, definitely.
So, to complete the StorycodeX and give the picture both its frame and its core, I proudly present the conversion of HERO 1.0 (the one who started his journey on the left side of boredom arrow, lived through EXPECTATION, SURPRISE and CHANGE in one or numerous iterations, depending on the story’s epicness) into HERO 2.0 (a different version of the same person, altered, in a positive or negative way) through CONFLICT:
CONFLICT and business communications rejecting this phenomenon so fervently, refusing the acknowledgement of the negative is a great topic, definitely worth a blog post here … maybe some other day… 🙂