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Stringing Words or Telling Stories?

There’s a thing that writers of fiction say: “I bleed ink.”

It’s a bit dramatic, perhaps, but the sentiment is obvious—we are not content to subsist on mere red and white blood cells, but rather require the sustenance of dyes and pigments and solvents to keep us alive. Prick us, do we not bleed black?

There’s another thing we do, and that’s self-deprecate. I am the queen of this. “Oh, I just write for a hobby. It’s a way to entertain myself. I string words together.”

Hm. A far cry from bleeding ink.

I’ve come to discover that there are two kinds of writers: word stringers and story tellers.

Word stringers abound in the business world. You can find word stringers across departments. They often have an excellent grasp of grammar and usage. They are competent written communicators. But they don’t tell stories.

Story tellers, on the other hand, are sometimes terrible writers. They break grammar rules all the time. They make proofreaders twitchy with all their misspellings and punctuation errors. But their stories are captivating, engrossing, compelling.

Which one are you?

There’s no shame in being a word stringer. I quite enjoy stringing words at times. Sometimes, the work calls for a word stringer. There may not be much to say, or the copy may require something so basic that mere clarity is enough.

But sometimes, the work calls for a storyteller. (A storyteller with a good grasp of grammar, spelling, usage, and the rules of storytelling is a big plus.)

When the work calls for a storyteller, what should you look for?

1) A storyteller understands the audience. This may require research. It may require a lot of research. But this is the Prime Directive of storytelling—understand the audience. There’s a reason Walt Disney cleaned up all those fairy tales before he put them onscreen. Most kids--or rather, most kids' moms and dads--don’t want to see Cinderella’s stepsisters chop off their toes to fit into the glass slipper.

2) A storyteller knows basic narrative structure. All stories have a beginning, middle, and end. There are a variety of directions the story can go along the way, depending on the type of story it is, but the basics are always there. A storyteller won’t ramble on forever with no end in sight, nor will a storyteller spend so long on background information that the beginning never comes.

3) A storyteller creates compelling characters. Your business stories are full of characters. A typical case study might be a kind of “man vs. nature” problem—your client, the protagonist, has a problem with some kind of external force—a pain that must be solved. You, as the hero or guide, provide a solution, allowing the protagonist to persevere to a successful end.

4) A storyteller loves to tell stories. Not all writers love to tell stories. Some writers—word stringers—are content to simply explain concepts or create lists or provide direction. But storytellers find stories in anything, and they are compelled by a supernatural need to craft stories for the consumption of others.

If your company is struggling to connect with customers, prospects, and the community at large, it might be time to call in a storyteller. Give me a call to find out how you can harness the power of story.

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