Rarely does writing come easy for writers. Sure, there are moments of pure inspiration when the exact thing we want to say somehow flows out onto the page with such exceptional levels of poignancy and style that we ourselves sit back amazed. Then, after sufficient time marinating in the beauty of that short-lived success, we return to the slog.
And friends, it can be a slog.
The difference between writers and people who wouldn’t claim this title with a 10-foot pole is this: because we are compelled to this life, we’ve figured out ways to make it work for us so that we can function in the world like a normal human being. (As opposed to Melville characters lost in our own self-created madness.)
So for anyone who classifies himself as a non-writer, I understand trying to create compelling stories seems daunting and frustrating. I mean, if it’s challenging for me, how can I sit here and tell you the importance of storytelling for your business, and then expect you to be able to do it? And even worse, do it well?
But you can, I promise.
The key is to remember that storytelling is a craft. Something to be worked at.
One, as a professional writer, I’m always practicing (and honestly, don’t assume I’ll ever truly perfect). Instead, I use techniques and strategies to create framework, explore ideas, and lay down solutions.
Today I wanted to give you one such idea to consider when you turn to the screen, as I’m often asked, “Where do I even start?”
Start with figuring out what it is you want to say.
Start with theme.
What is Theme?
Called a moral vision, an explanation of human behavior, the moral of a story, theme is a key storytelling technique.
It drives the story and gives structure to one’s argument, whatever that may be, with defined or expected parameters. For anyone who’s ever written a research paper, think thesis. For example, with the theme Love Conquers All, an author will work to prove this truth using various techniques, conflicts, and information. Every action, dialogue, character in the story supports this underlying current, so that at the end of the story, it’s beyond shadow of doubt. Love, in fact, does conquer all.
Why Use It?
Incorporating theme into your brand storytelling efforts accomplishes several things.
1. Themes are universal. So it automatically registers with your audience. They’ll immediately have a sense of who you are and what you’re about. In fiction, it’s widely known, and sometimes bemoaned, that all stories fit into one category or another. Maybe not such an adored trait in the fiction industry, but for the travel and adventure side of the house, we can use this to our advantage.
2. Themes direct your individual story’s purpose. Writing isn’t cake. It’s easy to get lost while in the middle of what you’re trying to say, if you’re able to find the right words to begin, at all. But when you have a guiding theme, ideas tend to fall in line more fluidly. This is because you know what to include—only supporting characters, dialogue, and plot that buttresses the theme.
3. Theme can help guide your overarching storytelling strategy. Because a story’s theme is easily recognizable, it helps you create an overall brand identity. It helps balance your company between a number of themes. Say you’re a kayak manufacturer. The Man vs. Nature theme meshes perfectly into your storytelling. So you opt to share a lot of stories about employees and consumers with their battle against the elements, whitewater, unexpected waterfalls. However, your company also resonates with Empowerment and Man vs. Self. But you want Man vs. Nature to drive your brand, with elements of the latter two sprinkled around it. You can build it so that your output schedule reflects this. This might look like 80 percent of your stories focus on the Man vs. Nature theme, with the last 20 percent broken up between Empowerment and Man vs. Himself. Or whatever works for you. But by labeling each story with a theme, you consciously determine how your content supports your brand, rather than just putting any ol’ story out there, just for the sake of content creation.
How Do You Define Your Story Theme?
There are quite a few ways to define theme. Here’s a quick one:
Step 1. Define the problem.
Step 2: Define the internal conflict resolution.
Step 3: Define the external conflict resolution.
Step 4: Combining everything.
Now you have your theme.
Put It into Action
For example, let’s look at a story that aligns with the kayak manufacturer I mentioned previously. They might share this story about one of their costumers, sponsored athlete, or employee.
Step 1: Define the problem: Tom, a world-class kayaker, nearly died last year when Class 5 rapids held him under a boulder for nearly 5 minutes. He suffered severe brain trauma and 2 broken arms, but after serious PT, he’s back in physical shape. However, despite how much Tom misses the water, but there’s a cloud of fear hanging over him that prevents him from seeing any action. He just can’t do it.
Step 2: Define the internal conflict resolution: Something forces or encourages Tom to reconsider and overcome his fears. Maybe it’s a letter from a dying friend, maybe it’s the offhanded comment of a stranger. Whatever it is, our champion decides to return to the water.
Step 3: Define the external conflict resolution: Now, Tom takes the physical steps to overcome his demons. He picks up his kayak, and we follow him through, from beginning to end, on his first successful run after a year. Tom’s emotional, your emotional, readers are emotional.
Step 4: Combine the previous steps to define your theme: Man overcomes personal fears (in this case dying or getting caught again) to accomplish his overarching goal (get back to kayaking, something he loves) = Man vs. Self theme.
Add some riveting details, some personal quotes, a steady build into a climax, and that’s an inspiring story that will have readers reaching for their oars.
Good luck, and I’d love to hear how it things work out for you. 🙂