Stories are about events that happen to people. If we like the people, if we identify with the people, if we recognize the people, we are likely going to be compelled to read about those events. The question is, how do we create characters readers will be interested in? How do we avoid clichés, stereotypes, or one-dimensional caricatures? First, try to provide information about the characters without appearing as if you're providing information. In other words, it's not just the information, it's the way you present the information. You don't want to provide a formal résumé or a psychological profile of a character. Instead, you want to show the character in action; from that action, the reader will determine the traits and qualities of the character. For instance, compare these two sentences about the same character.Bernstein cared a lot about his golf game. Bernstein slammed his Ben Hogans into the trunk of his Toyota. In the first example, we have information, plainly stated. What we don't have is effective characterization, which is achieved through action and detail. Example two provides those. Action is exposition: Bernstein is slamming golf clubs into the trunk of a car. This action provides information without explicitly stating the information (as in the first example). That action conjures several possible suggestions about Bernstein: (1) He's careless; (2) he's angry about his game (he lost, he played poorly); or (3) he's angry about something else, and a round of golf has not soothed him. Details also characterize. Ben Hogans are a type of golf club; they say something about the type of golfer (they are linked to the point of view of the golfer and suggest the amount of investment the golfer has in the game). Would storytelling with data help your organisation?
A Toyota is a type of car, and again, that type suggests something about the owner. Balzac said, “Show me what a man owns, and I'll show you what he believes.” Details work on more than one level. The details are the literal circumstances of the moment, but they also point to deeper truths about the character. The first example above tells us one piece of information about Bernstein, but the second example actually characterizes him by showing us many pieces of information. Perhaps the most important rule of all writing: Forget about all the rules. A friend of mine who's an avid (and very good) tennis player wanted to take his game to the next level. He hired a coach and began working with the coach twice a week. The coach ran him ragged on the court and constantly made micro-corrections to his form. In less than a month, my friend found his game falling apart, and after two months he complained to his coach. “I get out on the court, I try to remember everything you've taught me, and I can't return a ball over the net.” The coach said, “When we practice, practice as hard as you can. Do every drill, integrate every correction. Then, when you play, forget you ever had a coach, forget every drill, every instruction. Just play your game. The drills and the instructions will filter into your game if you just forget about them and play.” My friend followed the coach's advice, and soon he was at the top of his club, looking for more advanced players to challenge from other clubs. The same principle applies to writing. Have you tried storytelling for business to boost customer engagement?
Practice hard and often, attempt to do the exercises and the drills while you're practicing. Then, forget everything you've learned and write straight out of the fever (or the grind) of writing. Once you've got a stack of pages, read them, see how they're going, then think about the “rules.”RESEARCH CHARACTERS THE WAY ACTORS DO. I don't mean read an entry in Wikipedia (although you can), and I don't mean pile up a stack of books in the library (although you can). Get out among the type of character you're writing. For instance, if you're writing about truck drivers, get in a truck with one. Take a ride, or several. What's in the cabin? What's on the radio? The CB (if they even still have those things)? What does the trucker wear? How does he sound? What kinds of jargon does the trucker use? What's in his glove compartment? What's in his cooler? Does he lie in his logbook? (If he doesn't, he's not a trucker.) Drop in to a truck stop. Listen. Observe. Don't rely on reading a couple of chapters of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Get out there with the real people and study them. A good case in point: Compare the renderings of prostitutes in Mary Gaitskill's “Trying to Be” with those in Lorrie Moore's “Vissi d'Arte.” One rendering is complex, dimensional, convincing; the other is false, hackneyed, invented. Would storytelling in business be a likely mechanism for your company?