When I first returned to writing fiction back in 2009, I realized that my years of copywriting had done some fantastic things for my fiction writing. Ghostwriting under occasional tight deadlines trained me to produce thousands of words at a time very quickly. Working on collateral pieces and websites taught me to trim sentences for maximum impact with minimal words. And working with a diverse clientele across a broad range of industries encouraged my curiosity and willingness to reach out to new people--something that is often a real challenge for this introvert!
What I didn't realize was how much my fiction writing would influence my corporate storytelling skills.
I spent a lot of time over the last several years studying story, narrative structure, and how to connect with an audience. Turns out, all of that is relevant to writing stories for businesses.
Here are my top four epiphanies from my years of fiction writing:
The writing matters. If the massive growth of self-publishing over the last ten years demonstrates anything, it’s this: not everyone should publish a book.
This is not to denigrate any specific book, nor to suggest that there are not good self-published novels out there. I would like to think that my own self-published novels can hold their own against many traditionally published books. But a quick glance at free samples from Amazon will show most any discerning reader that not every self-published book is on the same playing field.
Writing counts. Good writing matters. A basic knowledge of grammar, usage, spelling, and style is important. Writing should be invisible so that the story shines.
Structure counts. All novels have a basic narrative structure. You probably learned it in your middle school English class. Rising action leads to a plot point, which leads to more rising action, which eventually leads to the climax and then the resolution (or denouement, if you want to be formal about it).
The same basic structure can provide a good skeleton for a business story. A case study follows the same basic structure: problem (conflict and action), solution seeking (rising action), decision (plot point), solution (resolution). Corporate history: founder has an idea or sees a problem in the marketplace (inciting action), overcomes barriers to success (action), gets traction in the market (plot point), repeats as necessary (highlight mergers, successes, downturns, etc.), until today (resolution with an opening for a sequel). Even a basic human interest story can use the same structure by highlighting the conflict, action, decision points, and resolution of a single employee or a department that solves a corporate dilemma or a group in the company that serves the community.
All stories use the same basic elements and similar structures to create connection with the reader.
Characters need to be relatable. Readers want to connect with characters. They will willingly spend hundreds of pages with a character who shares their interests, flaws, struggles, strengths. They will quickly close the book on a character who is flat, uncomplicated, perfect, or unemotional.
Likewise, the “characters” in your business stories need to connect with the reader through shared struggles or problems. By sending out a case story that highlights a common problem in your target market, you create a connection with your prospects. The decision maker reads how you solved a similar problem at another company, and a solution becomes possible in that decision maker’s mind. “Hey, they solved that guy’s problem. I have a similar problem. Maybe they can help me.”
Relatable characters create an emotional connection that can’t be quantified.
Conflict is key. Without conflict, there is no story. Without a problem or need on your customer’s part, there is no business. To make a success story, case study, or corporate history into a compelling read, you need conflict. Find the conflict, and you’ll find the story.
Story is one of the most powerful tools you can use to connect with employees, prospects, and existing customers. A good story consultant can help you find the story elements in your business and craft those elements into a compelling narrative.