Using fictional storytelling techniques in business, part 3

Of course, stories in the business sphere don’t always fit into this tidy framework. Regardless, they must have sufficient detail to make the story authentic and vivid. Physical detail will help give your story vividness and pull someone in, because it creates a dream state in the mind. When crafting stories, be as specific as possible.This is the third of a three-part post by Jason Hensel. (Read part 1 and part 2.)

“A scene will not be vivid if the writer gives too few details to stir and guide the reader’s imaginations; neither will it be vivid if the language the writer uses is abstract instead of concrete,” wrote John Gardner in The Art of Fiction, a classic book on writing.

The most important thing is to have an authentic voice or risk losing the trust of the audience.

Connection and Resonance
One writer who understands the importance of emotional connection between stories and readers is Pat Lencioni, bestselling author of several business books presented as fables, such as Death by Meeting and The Three Signs of a Miserable Job.

“I think that people today are more distracted than ever,” Lencioni said. “People are looking for something that captures their attention and provides an enjoyable experience. I decided to write fables rather than more traditional books for one primary reason: I believe that people learn best when they are engaged. So many of my readers tell me that they relate to the characters and get absorbed in the story, and before they know what’s happening, they’re learning something big. Beyond that, I wanted people to actually enjoy reading my books.”

And no fiction, Gardner writes, can have real interest if the central character is not an agent struggling for his or her own goals, but a victim subject to the will of others.

“Failure to recognize that the central character must act, not simply be acted upon, is the single most common mistake of beginners,” he wrote.

The hero’s journey—your central character—is tantamount to great stories, and there should be a feel-good element to them, Hoffman says.

“[Heroes] overcome obstacles on their way to a positive outcome,” Hoffman wrote on his blog, Ishmael’s Corner. “And if the hero starts out as an underdog a la ‘David versus Goliath,’ there’s even more of a reason to have a rooting interest. The same concept holds true in business storytelling. While we tend to think of a hero as bigger than life, the hero in the context of a business story can bridge theory to reality.”

Plot and Context
A writer has no story until the plot is sufficiently planned.

“Though character is the emotional core of great fiction, and though action with no meaning beyond its own brute existence can have lasting appeal, plot is—or must sooner or later become—the focus of every good writer’s plan,” Gardner wrote.

Part of plot development is setting up context for your story.

“Take the movie Rudy. If you jump to the end of the movie and see Rudy finally going into the game to play for Notre Dame, this has zero meaning,” Hoffman said. “Instead, one needs to understand he originally got rejected, parlayed a [junior college] stint into admissions, walked on to the team as an undersized player, etc.”

Within context, we are able to fully appreciate the character’s achievement.

“In business, one doesn’t have the benefit of two hours and a Hollywood director to tell the story,” he said. “But the principles of storytelling can still be applied. There’s a difference between ‘flowery’ and ‘details.’ I define flowery as spending a chunk of time explaining why something is beautiful or on yourself. On the other hand, details—particularly in the form of anecdotes—bring a story to life.”

Great stories not only entertain or distract us from our troubles, they broaden our knowledge of the world and humans, helping us know what we believe and reaffirming our noblest aspects.

“Whether a given work is boisterous, like a circus, or quietly elegant, like a sailboat, or disorienting, like an unpleasant dream come alive, or something else, all good [writing] has moment-by-moment fascination,” Gardner wrote. “It has authority and at least a touch of strangeness. It draws us in.”

The stories may all begin and end differently, but they all have the same core—we are one. The human story is the only story there is, and when you understand that, you’ll be able to move freely in any world, from barroom to boardroom. One+

JASON HENSEL is associate editor of One+

photo via Katrina Snaps

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