Hi, I’m Mike L. Murphy. By the end of this 3 part article series you should have a very clear understanding about the art of storytelling, so that you can more clearly communicate your amazing ideas with others. You may be thinking, “Why should I know storytelling? I’m not a writer!” If so, it’s not your fault for thinking that. Most people don’t have a clear understanding of how important this art form is.
Let me ask you a question…
Are you a creative person? In other words, do you create things? You might create art, music, products, services… basically you have an idea in your head and you have to find a way to communicate that to others.
If so, then you’re what I call a Visionary. Visionaries have ‘visions’ of things they want to make and then create them. Who interacts with the Visionaries creations? Their Audience! What is the number one strategy to hook an Audience’s attention? Hint, Hollywood used this strategy to generate over $38 billion dollars in 2015. The world’s top 25 authors earned $89 million in a 12 month time period, and the Article game industry grossed over $98 billion dollars in 2015.
What do all these industries have in common? They tell stories.
Now you may be thinking “I’m not a Hollywood studio, bestselling author or Article game designer.”
Even if you are none of those things, wouldn’t you love to know the secrets of storytelling so you can use them to make your creations better, communicate more clearly, and engage your Audience? When you do these things you create better art and entertainment that engages your Audience (which will in return generate more revenue and fame). If you’re a business owner, when you infuse your marketing with stories, you go from being a pushy salesperson to an educator and entertainer who provides value to your Audience (which will in return generate more revenue and fame).
No matter how you slice it, knowing how to tell a solid story is only going to make you better at what you do.
Before I go deeper into storytelling, let me ask you another question…
At Disney’s California Adventure they have a roller coaster. When the park first opened it was called Mulholland Madness and looked like a plain old roller coaster. Then John Lasetter, head of Disney and Pixar Animation, and director of Toy Story, took creative control over the park.
The creatives changed the coaster’s name and theme to “Goofy’s Flight School.” Riders were no longer on a generic steel roller coaster. Now they were getting schooled by Goofy on how to fly a plane. The roller coaster become suddenly popular.
Any idea what made the difference?
By the end of these 3 Articles you should know how to answer that question!
My goal for you is to have a solid understanding of storytelling so you can entertain your Audience.
But first, let’s define a few things…
The dictionary says a brand is, “a particular identity or image regarded as an asset or a type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name.”
If you’re creative, or what I call a Visionary, then YOU are your brand.
Anything you create is part of your Brand. Let’s use Dr. Seuss as an example. He was a writer and illustrator. He wrote dozens of books, many of which are famous as brands of their own. But Dr. Suess was the brand! Dr. Seuss was an artist. But he also was a business. Let’s look at a company like Apple. They were led by the iconic Visionary, Steve Jobs. He saw his company’s products like pieces of art. So to me, a brand for a Visionary is themselves first, then anything they create second.
Therefore your Brand is anything you create. It can be entertainment, like movies, games, shows, books… the list goes on. Or it can be education. If you’re running a business, your Brand should use education to tell your Audience how your Brand can benefit them. Or it can be a product that enriches the life of your Audience.
What is the invisible thread that ties all this together? Storytelling.
Steve Jobs made electronics. Yet everyone knows his story. Same with Vincent Van Gogh, The Beatles or Virgin Airlines. We know the story of the Visionaries creative process while creating their respective works of art.
Storytelling is the engine that drives the great marketing of a great brand.
It’s simply the story a business or an individual (a Visionary) tells their Audience about themselves and their creations.
Bad marketing is all about selling. That’s why you want to learn how to use stories to persuade and educate others.
Storytelling principles are necessary for Artists who want to form a deeper emotional connection with their Audience so that they can get more fans. It’s also for Entrepreneurs who want to incorporate solid messaging into their branding and marketing so that they can clearly communicate the value they provide to their customers (I call all customers ‘Guests’). When value is properly communicated the Audience converts to Guests (because they bought) which results in the Entrepreneur’s business making more money.
Before we dive too deeply in, let me give you a quick overview of what you’ll learn in each Part of this comprehensive trilogy of articles.
Article 1 is all the about the ‘Big Picture’ of storytelling.
You’ll learn the big ideas that are necessary for you to understand the more advanced concepts that we’ll talk about in Articles 2 and 3. These ‘big ideas’ include ‘what is a story’, ‘how a story can benefit you’ and an analogy of how a story is a like a roller coaster. My thought is that stories are not physical things that you can look at and instantly ‘get’.
But a roller coaster, which provides a similar experience as a story, is a great example we can use so you can easily grasp the ‘big ideas’ of storytelling. We’ll talk more about roller coasters very soon!
Part 2 is all about Characters and Audience. Why is that so important? Because your Audience is made up of human beings. As humans we need to relate to the stories we hear.
The best way to relate is to tell stories about characters we can relate to.
In other words, if you tell me a story about a character I relate to (because I understand their motivations and emotions) then I’ll become emotionally invested in finding out if the character succeeds (or fails tragically).
A character is anyone, or anything, that your story is about. If you use the principles I’ll tell you later about creating great characters, you’ll be able to design characters that capture your Audience’s interest. When you think of any great story, you usually think about the main character, Batman, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, etc. There is a reason most stories are titled after the main character.
Finally, Part 3 is all about Story Structure. Story Structure is the series of events and information that must happen in order for your Audience to have the best emotional experience.
If you don’t understand story structure you won’t be able to tell a solid story. We’ll review classic storytelling and then I’ll relate this back to our roller coaster example so you can clearly understand what the structure looks like.
Oh yeah, before I forget…
To really help you learn all about Storytelling, I created a bonus 3-part video training that compliments this article. You can access it now by clicking the big red ‘Download These Now’ button below. You’ll also be able to instantly download all my notes I used while writing this. So don’t miss out! Click the button then enter your details. 😉
Since we’re talking about stories, let me quickly tell you mine…
As a kid, I always loved movies. They were my only means of escape. My home life was pretty chaotic and my parents weren’t really around. So movies, and the characters they told about, were all I really had to go with. They taught me what life was about. How to have honor, how to go after my dreams, and how to stay positive.
In high school I had the great luck to receive an invitation to the Disney Animation Studios in Hollywood. Here I was, a 16 year old kid, hanging out at Disney watching adults act like kids while creating a make believe world. They were making Aladdin at the time. Before this tour I assumed that movies were simply magically made in someone’s mind. But after the tour I realized that great stories are works of art created by dozens of skilled Visionaries. These massive projects were all bound together by the central idea of the story. In other words, if you don’t have a solid story to tell, then the team of Visionaries will have no direction. You’d be left with a massive mess as no one was on the same page.
Seeing hundreds of Visionaries working so intently, on something so imaginative really inspired me! At that moment I asked, “How can I do this?” to the Disney animators. The animators told me I needed to attend CalArts…the art school Walt Disney founded right before he passed away. Even though I was only 16, and had one year of high school to go, I applied, got in and then dropped out of high school. So yes, technically, I am a high school drop out!
At CalArts I was fascinated with storytelling. I wanted to know the ‘magic trick’ that made the Audience believe a character was alive. This effect was even more dramatic when the character was something completely fictitious like an animated lamp or monster.
But I struggled to learn storytelling!
Why? Because it’s so idiotically simple that us Visionaries want to make it complex.
Immediately after college I started writing scripts. They weren’t very good because I was learning my craft. In other words, you’re not going to be the next J.K. Rowling the minute you finish the third Article in this series, but you will begin to understand what Rowling did and why. Because I didn’t feel those early scripts were that good (they weren’t because I hadn’t mastered storytelling yet) I didn’t think of myself as a Writer.
After 15 years in the film industry, working on such blockbuster franchises as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Ironman and Fast & Furious, I was ready to direct. I’d directed commercials and award winning short films prior to that but now I was ready to direct a feature film.
Every producer I talked to said, “You’re talented, but you need to be a writer-director”. I was hesitant to write my own scripts because I had the mindset that I wasn’t a writer. Around this time, I realized that in order for me to have time to write a script (and direct a movie) I couldn’t be working 12 hour days supervising visual effects for other directors! I needed to break off and do my own thing.
In short, I needed to become an Entrepreneur.
I took the plunge and ‘left’ Hollywood. In three short years I was able to build two 6 figure businesses and hire a staff. I had to write all my own presentations and marketing. I got so good at this that other Entrepreneurs hired me to help them with their businesses!
It was ironic because I am not a business guy. I’m a Storyteller. What makes my businesses successful is my love and knowledge of how to tell a good story. Stories help your Audience learn to know you, like you and trust you. This is where you build the relationship and become relatable. When this happens you magically create a fan base that supports your passions financially.
When you know how to tell stories you’re able to clearly communicate your ideas. How many times do people ask you, “What do you do?” and you sort of stumble through explaining things? Or you try to present an idea and people look at you confused.
These are both symptoms of a lack of storytelling on your part. The honest truth is I used to SUCK at storytelling but was committed to mastering it. Now I’m taking all that I’ve learned and am presenting it to you as clearly as possible in this 3 Article training series.
What is a story?
My definition is this… It’s information that is organized into a structure that evokes the emotions of an Audience.
Think of a great story like Christmas.
Imagine you’re five years old. You wake up and wipe the sleep from your eyes. You bound out of bed and dash down the stairs to see the beautiful presents lined up under the tree.
You know they’re full of awesome things…
But you can’t find out what they are yet.
This creates anticipation and uncertainty. You assume the presents will be exactly what you want…but they could suck. Or they could be something way cooler than you were anticipating!
Your curiosity makes Christmas an exciting event.
A great story should illicit the same excitement and emotions as that five year old version of yourself felt.
Let’s agree on four things:
Yikes! What a crappy story!
Why did that suck so bad?
A few reasons.
First off, Bob has no character. You don’t get a sense of who he is.
Nothing happens. Nothing. This is because there is no conflict.
And because nothing happened, there are no emotions.
I’ll now tell a different version of the Bob story. See if you can spot the difference.
Let’s stop this story right here. What was the difference between this story and the previous one?
In this story you get a sense of Bob and his big problem.
There is lots of conflict. Nothing seems to go right for poor old Bob. The stakes are stacked against him!
This layering of problems hooks your curiosity. You want to find out what happens!
Also, the story features specific details. It paints a picture of little scenes that you can imagine happening to Bob.
There is also Reaction/Action. Each ‘action’ Bob takes causes the next thing to happen. This is a simple cause and effect mechanism.
Here’s an example:
- It’s a hot day, and Bob wants refreshment.
- He sees the ice cream truck.
- Bob reacts by licking his lips.
- He then acts by reaching into his left pocket for money.
- Bob then reacts to not finding his wallet.
Do you see the difference? By adding a character you can relate to, curiosity and lots of Actions and Reactions you can craft a story that captures an Audience’s attention.
Story is like a roller coaster
So far, what common word have you heard me utter over and over again?
If you said ‘emotions’ you deserve an ice cream, like Bob!
But because stories are not tangible things…they’re conceptual, not physical, let me give you an example of something that is like a story that I think you can relate to.
If you’re familiar with the Visionary Planner, then you know that I teach business in relation to a theme park. If you’re an artist keep in mind that business is an art form.
As Andy Warhol said, “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”
Just like a story, a business can be a vague concept that is hard to grasp. But we can all understand theme parks.
Because we can see them, smell them, touch them….in short, we can experience them. Whenever we experience anything our emotions kick in.
Please note, the emotion of ‘boredom’ is not something you want to kick in!
So let’s relate a story to a roller coaster.
You’ve been on a roller coaster, right? Or at least you know what they are?
Roller coasters are just like stories because they evoke strong emotions in the Audience. Remember that when our emotions are engaged we have a great experience!
Let’s talk about the main elements of a roller coaster…
In the image below we can see there is a track, a train, a rider, an Audience and power. A story has similar features. So in this Article I’ll relate a roller coaster to a story, and in the next Articles we’ll dive deeper into the thrilling experience a roller coaster, and a story, put you on.
You probably said ‘electricity’.. If so, thank your third grade science teacher. She taught you well.
A Roller Coaster needs electricity to power the lift that hauls the Train to the top of each hill.
A story is powered by 3 things: Conflict, Curiosity and Emotions.
A roller coaster has a track so that the train full of the riders can experience the journey. On a roller coaster this track is visual and clear. It’s usually towering above you!
In a story, the track represents the big ideas that guide the direction of your story. This track guides the rider up and down, in and out and controls the speed. It’s the structure of the coaster. If this track is not properly planned out one of two things can happen. One is the roller coaster is boring and the riders will have an awful experience. The other is that if the track is not structurally sound, then the riders could die!
The big ideas of a story are no different. They can kill the Audience with boredom!
Think of a story’s ‘track’ as the concept, or premise. This concept then gets broken down into smaller pieces called ‘beats’ that make up the plot. But we’ll talk about that in Article 2. For now I want you to grasp what a concept, or premise is.
The concept is the core idea that makes up your story. Here’s an example: A Team of bickering Superheroes must team up to save the earth from evil invading aliens.
What story is that from? If you guessed The Avengers you’re a geek!
The concept is the most important part, because you can’t tell a great story if the underlying ideas are garbage. Well you can if you call it Transformers Part 9.
A concept can be summed up in just an image, like my painting below.
Or it can be long, like the Avengers movie.
Or it can be really long, like the Harry Potter books.
It really depends on how solid the underlying structure is.
So when you’re creating you want to know what your story is about. If you aren’t clear on the structure and concept then your Audience won’t be either. Then a story’s greatest enemy…boredom, will kick in!
Just like a roller coaster has support beams and a foundation, your story concept needs a few more things…
Your story’s foundation includes Genre, Moral, Storyteller and Mood.
A roller coaster has a train for the Riders to sit in. It protects them and moves freely along the track moment by moment. I call this ‘The Journey’ they go on. The famous scholar on myth, Joseph Campbell, called this the ‘Heroes Journey’.
The Audience is living vicariously through the adventures of the Hero, so it’s vital that the Storyteller plan the journey out. In Article 3 we’ll talk about the parallel experiences the Audience and Hero should have. Think of the train as the moment-by-moment experience both the Audience and Hero are having. When the Hero is winning, the Audience feels joy and pride. When the Hero is losing the Audience feels dread and despair.
In the 2nd Article we’ll talk about the ups and downs the train should go on so the Audience has the best possible ‘customer’ experience. Knowing how to manipulate the emotions of your Audience, and give them an amazing experience, is what will make your stories (and brand) resonate with others and take over the world!
A roller coaster has a rider. This is the poor sap who is strapped into the train’s seat. They’re at the mercy of the track!
In a story, this is your Hero. A hero is a misleading term, because some stories are tragedies. The Hero dies in the end. Or they’re comedies, and the hero is a hapless moron who is doomed to repeat the same idiotic behavior for the end of time.
So a term I prefer is Protagonist. This is the main character. Remember this word has the pre-fix ‘Pro’. Pro means ‘for’. This is the character we’re rooting for. The Protagonist is the element in your story that makes it accessible for the Audience. It’s the guide that we relate to emotionally that shows us around the world of your story.
The Protagonist must be relatable. Commonly this character is an ‘underdog’ or ‘everyman’. By having them be so relatable it helps us see ourselves in them.
The Protagonist can also be a total dick. They can be evil, corrupt and nasty just so long as they aren’t the nastiest character in the story. A famous example of a sympathetic ‘bad guy’ is Michael Corleone in Godfather 2. He’s tragic, but because he’s not the most evil character in the story, we can relate to his need to protect his family and we root for him.
A lot of stories also have ‘anti-hero’ protagonists. These are characters who do bad things for good reasons. Good examples of this are the superheroes in Deadpool, Punisher and Daredevil. They kick ass in unethical ways in order to protect good people.
The secret is we must empathize with the Protagonist in order to relate to them. Empathy is when you can relate to someone else’s feelings.
Remember how earlier I said stories are a manual for how we should live our lives? How we can rise above our primal animalistic needs to be the best people we can be? A great protagonist lets the Audience learn vicariously through them. We get confirmation that if we struggle enough and put up with enough bullshit we just might come out on top, like Rocky, Luke Skywalker and Jackie Chan!
You can’t have a story without a Protagonist. Otherwise, your Story wouldn’t be about anyone or anything.
However, sometimes a story can make the Storyteller (first person narrator), the Audience (first person shooter game), a group or community (an ensemble film like The Avengers), the Brand (Apple computer’s story of how they were the ‘little guy’ battling the evil tech giant of IBM) or the product (The iPod brought you 1,000 songs in your pocket) the Protagonist.
Just like a Story, a Roller Coaster has a line of people who want to experience the coaster. Usually the longer the line, the more fired up with anticipation the line of people is to ride the coaster. These people who are waiting in line are Spectators.
Remember that stories are like a roller coaster. You should give your Audience the emotional experience they deserve!
Storytelling lets the Storyteller have God-like control over the world, characters and events.
They can stylize the story to suit their tastes and objectives. Here’s a great clip from Woody Allen’s Oscar winning Annie Hall that sums up the power a Storyteller has over their character’s lives (and ability to live vicariously through the triumphs of the Protagonists). If you haven’t seen the film (shame on you!), it tells the story of a storyteller and his romance with a girl named Annie. This scene starts with Woody (playing the role of Alvie) writing a play where he gets to break up with Annie (which is the opposite of how it really happened).
To answer the question I asked in the beginning…
The Goofy Roller Coaster added a simple story, with established characters, to an otherwise boring roller coaster.
The simple application of this ‘tool’ of story made it connect with the Audience. It also involves the Audience in a ‘wish-fulfillment’ story. This means they get to experience the fantasy of learning to fly… Something we’ve all dreamt about. We’ll talk more about ‘wish-fulfillment’ in the 2nd Article in this series.
I wrote this long-ass article to help you out, so if you’d like to show your appreciation by sharing this, I’d appreciate you!
It’ll take just a few seconds and really help us spread the word about how to properly tell stories. And since it’s free your friends are going to love that you shared this story with them. Just click one of the social media buttons and write a short blurb about what you just learned and why your friends would be silly not to check it out.
Thanks for checking out Part 1 of our 3 part Storytelling Trilogy.
Remember that stories are seemingly complex things. They are simple, but it’s hard not to overcomplicate them. It’s only by mastering this unique art form that you can acquire the knowledge and skills to keep all your stories simple.
It will take lots of learning and practice to master Storytelling. But the hardest step is deciding you want to master it.
By reading this I know you’re now one step closer.
P.S. If you haven’t yet grabbed your free Storytelling Notes (and 3 videos) then what are you waiting for? They perfectly compliment this article, and they’re FREE. 😉
Just click the big red ‘Download These Now’ button below: