Nothing can match a good story. I don’t care how bad your results, how shaky your insights or how thin your findings. Spin a tale, capture the attention of those people around you and you will be fine. Don’t worry about being a presenter — be a good storyteller. Take everyone on a journey. So that’s why I love Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. Take a look:
- You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
- You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
- Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
- Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
- Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
- What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
- Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
- Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
- When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
- Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
- Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
- Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
- Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
- Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
- If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
- What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
- No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
- You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
- Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
- Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
- You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
- What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
Came across a passage from the late great David Foster Wallce. It”s a story about fish and, honestly, who doesnt love stories about the sea?
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
While contemplating people’s habits the past few weeks, it’s increasingly evident that the will to believe is the most important factor when it comes to believing in change. As Wallace says, the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. We are blind to our surroundings. Sometimes we look too far and don’t notice who is sitting next to us, or looking us in the eyes. Thus, we can’t possibly understand people’s innate habits and even begin to understand how we alter these habits as marketers until we first recognize there is a special free will people tap into that drives their cravings.
So, the moral of the story? Even if you think you’re swimming check to see if you are in water.
Tell me this quote doesn’t sound like it could be a Planner talking?
You wake up at Seatac, SFO, LAX. You wake up at O’Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth, BWI. Pacific, mountain, central. Lose an hour, gain an hour. This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time. If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?
I’m constantly getting questions about how to break into Strategic Planning, and honestly answering this is more difficult than responding to my 3-year-old son when he asks ‘Where does hair come from?’ The point being, there is no clear rhyme or reason, which is a beautiful thing. But we can sometimes get caught up in this mystery. A recent blog post by Rob Campbell, Asia regional head of planning for Wieden + Kennedy, caught my attention. Rob writes: ‘planners – love to make a big deal out of being curious…Let’s be honest, curiosity is a basic human trait and even if planners execute this more than the majority [which I'd say is open to debate] they’re no where near as curious as people in the finance, technology, R&D or criminal investigation industries, to name a few.” Rob is spot on. All too often we set up Planning as some form of creative Black Magic. Something that can’t be described or discussed –The first rule of Planning is: You do not talk about Planning. The second rule of Planning is: You do not talk about Planning. We Planners have no magic powers (other than being loquacious and absurdly profound at times). In fact, quite the opposite, we are ‘liberators’ as Rob succinctly writes. It is our role to help liberate our client business. Now, rather than being seen as the mysterious agency people who lurk in the background, Planners are the ones who release the hounds! There is something tangible here. But alas, how does this help us in regards to breaking into Planning. Well, we don’t need to frame it up as a special club only for the curious few — but we can introduce it as a club for those who truly want ‘to understand and represent our client audience.’
So, my advice?…Go to your cave and find your power animal.
I just heard a description from an arson expert that got me thinking about how we sometimes mistake a good brainstorm for one cohesive great idea. This fire expert was talking about investigating arson cases and how they can determine if a fire was set simply by looking at the burn pattern. He was talking about a flashpoint, the lowest temperature at which a fire can vaporize to form an ignitable mixture in air. The quote that struck me was: ”The difference is, it goes from being a fire in a room — to a room on fire.” Now, think about that perceptual shift. Similar words. Very different meanings…So all brainstorms are merely just fire in a room — but it’s those very special sessions where the room is on fire…To quote Backdraft: ”When the doors open, if it’s hot, don’t get out.’
Ernest Hemingway is said to have claimed his best story was also his shortest — and I tend to agree. In just six words he captures a lifetime: ”For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” But seems he was ahead of his time in more ways than one. Social Media is now inspiring concise writing and quick storytelling. From the Twitter haiku movement — “twaiku” — to simply capturing your day in a Facebook status update, we now have literary boundaries encapsulated by technology — and we are all just cool with it. Less is more. And with apologies to The New Yorker, educators may just be right.