For branding experts, telling a compelling story is considered essential to building a successful business, professional or personal brand. For leaders, storytelling is a powerful way to enlist commitment or build enthusiasm. This fascinating New York Times article tells how storytelling can even make you happier.
In short, effective storytelling has many benefits.
Have you recently looked at the stories you tell? Do your stories generate emotion and connection? If you would like to consider your stories, read on...
I have compiled below seven steps you will want to follow to write your best story.
- Before you begin, sit at your computer or find some paper and pen.
- Look over the steps below before you begin writing.
- For each step, list all ideas you may want to include.
- As you proceed through the steps, you will want to go back to previous steps to revise or eliminate ideas.
- When you come to a writing challenge, move on to another step if necessary. Thinking about something else often brings a solution to another problem.
The goal of this process is to develop a compelling story that captures your readers’ attention and emotion. Your story will address the following topics: Who (character), What (challenge), When/Where (setting), Why (motivation), How (obstacles/solutions), Climax and Closing.
As you consider each of these seven steps, remember to list ideas on your draft.
Step 1. Who
Your story needs a character. For career stories, we will assume the character is YOU. However, you may want to think about other characters in the story, or you may write the story for someone else. Consider the following ideas as you describe your character:
- If you are writing for your portfolio or resume, you will include only brief ideas about yourself. If you are writing a biography, you will also want to include friends, family, heroes, villains, etc.
- Consider weakness or adversity. People with perfect lives are usually boring. Weakness or adversity builds tension and a better story.
- Make your character believable and sympathetic. The character must act in ways that fit his or her personality. What traits will you describe? What brand are you trying to create? (caring, clever, creative, honest, etc.) For a short bio, you will not want to develop these traits fully; for a book, you will develop your character with a variety of episodes that demonstrate the traits you are highlighting. Think of how your character responded or would respond in a variety of situations.
- Think of interviewing this character. What questions would you ask? How would he or she answer?
Step 2. What
If you are going to engage readers and connect with them emotionally, they must see a problem or challenge that your character must solve or overcome. The challenge creates tension and builds an emotional bond.
Your character may be very interesting and fun. However, if there is no challenge, the reader will move on. So, what challenges does your character face in this story?
Consider the following:
- Boring: "Mable Marvelous opened a women’s clothing store in her community."
- Better: "Mable Marvelous struggled with bank officials to open a business that would sell clothing to women in her community. (How could she open the business if the bank would not provide her with money for stock for her business?”)
- Best: "Mable marvelous struggled with bank officials and family members to open her business that catered to women cancer patients. Her personal bout with breast cancer taught her that women needed help with color and style to help them look their best as they experienced sometimes disfiguring surgery and debilitating treatment."
Step 3. Why
You or your character need motivation to meet this challenge. Why is it important to you? What do you want to happen? What traits do you have or ideas do you hold that make this challenge worth the effort it will take to overcome it?
Sometimes the problem is an ethical one. Sometimes it is fighting someone or something that is stronger. Sometimes it is overcoming one’s own traits or inhibitions. Having to act against one’s own traits creates greater tension in the story. However, the action must be believable.
What motivates your character to do what she does?
Step 4. Where and when
The setting to your story adds depth. Where and when does it take place?
Sometimes it is not necessary to spend a lot of time describing the setting, but other times the description is essential. If the story takes place in a car driving to the mall, it may not be necessary to talk very much about it.
If the story takes place in a law office that represents criminals on death row, the setting may be essential to the story. How would it feel? How did it look? How was it configured? That can mean the setting is like another character in the story that must be developed.
What is the setting for your story?
Step 5. How
After you have the Who (the characters), What (the problem or challenge), Where/When (the setting), and Why (the motivation), you will discuss How. This part of the story, often outlined in the beginning of the story, describes the obstacles the character encounters. The rest of the story offers additional detail and while telling how she deals with each of challenge. Often the magic number is three. However, you may want to include more than that if the story requires it. For example:
What: Wants to run for Congress
Where/when: Small district in Nebraska in the 1990’s
Why: She wants to stop special interests she thinks are controlling Congress
The story is very simple. However, when you add obstacles, it captures the imagination.
Her Obstacles: popular incumbent, powerful industries that oppose her, lack of political and campaign experience
Now, you have something to build tension and interest.
Step 6. Climax
After meeting each obstacle, you or your character confronts the big challenge of your story. This part of the story resolves the tension you have built. Your character also confronts who she is or what weaknesses she possesses. If she is afraid of public speaking, she delivers a moving speech that helps her to overcome a challenge. If she is disorganized, she organizes a group of people to fight the evil foe.
If you include a previously unknown twist, this is the time to do it if that twist is believable. The ending should be predictable, but maybe the main character meets the challenge in an unpredictable way.
Step 7. Closing
This is obviously the end. In the closing, you tie up any loose ends. You resolve any issues that were not resolved in your climax. Questions you may want to ask include:
- What character or personal transformations took place?
- What happened to the main character(s) after they made the choice, solved the mystery or met the challenge?
- What emotions surface because of the story’s climax- the choice, solving the mystery or meeting the challenge?
Now comes the challenge. If you have considered each of the steps above, you are ready to write your story.
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