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The Art of Storytelling

by Chris Dalton | 03.24.14

Have you ever become entranced in a good movie, to the point of where you feel like you know the characters? A great film can make you laugh uncontrollably, tear up with sadness, or scream with fright. There’s a reason you feel emotionally attached – a good narrative can reach people in ways plain information can’t.
 
Storytelling evokes a strong neurological response. Our brains produce cortisol during tense moments, which allows us to focus; oxytocin is released during moments of connection and empathy, and a happy conclusion releases dopamine, which makes us feel optimistic.
 
If you’re listing off a page of statistics, the information is going to go in one ear and out the other, regardless of how compelling the numbers may be. The human mind attempts to remember information by assembling pieces of experience into a story, by combining desire, life objectives, and then searching how to overcome that obstacle in a narrative format. Stories are how we remember; we tend to forget lists and bullet points.
 
Great writers and playwrights have known about the emotional pull of a dramatic arc for ages. The Roman drama critic, Horace, stated that “a play should not be shorter or longer than five acts.” The German playwright, Gustav Freytag, built a definitive structure of a powerful drama, consisting of five parts: the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. It came to be known as Freytag’s Pyramid:


 
 
 


Brands can harness this form of communication by building narratives around your products and your brand’s history. What makes your brand’s story interesting? What are the decisions that went into the making of a product, and how did that influence the end result? People are attracted to stories because we’re social creatures and we relate to other people.
 
Stories are memorable
 
It’s the backstory to the final product that makes people listen and retain knowledge. Frame your facts and information with a compelling story. Don’t rattle off the facts before drawing in your audience. If you don’t have something to frame your facts around, your audience will lose interest.
 
Stories are relatable
 
When you are trying to explain an abstract concept, it can be difficult to frame your ideas by relaying them bluntly. If you frame your concept within a larger story, it not only keeps attention, it makes the concept easier to understand. This is why children’s stories are so effective – by using vivid imagery and narrative, principles such as morals and ethics can be taught on a relatable scale.
 
Stories inspire action
 
If you’re in the marketing industry, a big part of your job is to create action – focusing on specifications and descriptions of your product will be forgotten five minutes after you’re done talking to your prospect; while an inspiring story will attract and motivate people.
 
Stories fulfill a human need to understand the patterns of living and make sense of experiential moments by placing them into a personal and emotional framework. To impart passion upon your audience, you must not only show the past, but also project the future and its potential – the possibility of what “could be” is what drives desire.
 
Storytelling is an old-fashioned tool, and that’s what makes it so powerful. Quantitative figures have their place, but they don’t touch people in a way that a story does. Data is persuasive but it doesn’t inspire them – data needs a story to be truly effective.




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