4 Tips to Help Make You a Better Storyteller (For Marketers)
Most articles about how to create more compelling content (written, video or audio) say something like, You've got to tell a story, man. Make your reader feel something. But how many of them actually tell you how to become a better storyteller?
More to the point, when was the last time you wrote a story? I mean a fictional story, one where you invent characters and situations. When was the last time you read a story? If you want to create more interesting content for your business, and you want to do it as a storyteller, then understanding stories is a great place to start.
These four simple tips can, with time and practice, help you to create content which feels more like a story.
1. Read more short stories
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, short stories were incredibly popular in almost every genre. They were beloved by some of our most famous authors, including Ernest Hemingway, Alice Munro, Ray Bradbury and James Joyce. Now, unless you subscribe to certain literary magazines, it's rare to come across any short stories at all.
That's a shame, because for marketers, short stories are a perfect example of how to capture a reader's attention and hold it just long enough to have a meaningful impact.
Just like with your marketing content, in a short story, no single word is wasted. I guarantee that if you read more short stories, you'll develop a knack for writing more interesting content.
Here are five of my favorite short stories:
For a glimpse into the horrific things normal people can do, there's no better guide than Raymond Carver.
People often call The Lottery the quintessential short story. I agree.
I consider The Scythe one of Bradbury's best stories, and its ending one of the most beautiful pieces of prose ever written.
Smart, funny, dry, classic Vonnegut. If you want to understand how to tell a story, read this.
If you didn't appreciate A Handmaid's Tale in school, now's the time to make amends with one of the best short story-tellers ever.
2. Use simple language and less of it
When we tell stories to people in the flesh, we use simple language and we get to the point, because it's pretty obvious when someone's starting to get bored. In storytelling, it's the same deal; you're sharing a feeling, not showing off how fancy of a writer you are.
This is an excerpt from Little Things by Raymond Carver:
'She turned and tried to hold the baby over in a corner behind the stove.
But he came up. He reached across the stove and tightened his hands on the baby.'
It's one of the most harrowing shorts Carver ever wrote, and the language in it's almost laughably simple. When you strip language down to its bare necessities, more often than not you end up with something much more real. Apply this to your content writing.
3. Be sure, be confident
Fiction writers usually go through round after round of edits, and will only release a story once they're satisfied with every single word. If you wouldn't sit and read, or sit and watch the thing you're about to put out, then why the hell should you expect anyone else to?
If you're generating content for the sake of it, don't do anything at all. It doesn't need to be a masterpiece, but the only content worth your time and the time of others, is the stuff you would happily pick up a year from now and hand to a potential employer or client.
4. Write something other than marketing content
There is simply no better way to understand how stories work than to write one, or two dozen. And if you're serious about becoming a better storyteller, with your fiction or with your business writing, then you must let others read your work.
As soon as I'm done with a story, I look forward to having it critiqued, because criticism helps you to plug the holes in your writing, and once you know what people like and dislike, you're in a position to write a better story next time.
And that's relevant to marketing, isn't it? We're always talking about giving audiences what they want, but unless you allow people to tear your efforts to shreds, you'll never find out what it is they want.
Becoming a better storyteller takes time, practice and guts. You have access to all three, and I encourage you start right now, with one of the stories listed above.