Tell a Story, Save Lives
Story is the most powerful tool any communicator can wield.
During this election year, we’ll be bombarded with story in everything from the biographies of the candidates (and their “Save the Cat!” moments) to the testimonials they use to make a point statistics can’t.
And the simple “Before” and “After” of a Jenny Craig ad shows how we are drawn to anything that “transforms.” When we begin this story, the hero was one way — now he’s another way.
As writers we are experts in the field of story, so like the superheroes we are, whenever there is a problem that needs to be explained, you can and should call on us.
Storytellers to the rescue!
Take the recent article I read in the Los Angeles Times about a group of writing students at the University of Alabama who took on the problem of how to inform the public about the dangers of diabetes.
While patients suffering from the disease knew all about it, they often did not follow the exercise and dieting regime they needed to live better and more satisfying lives. So instead of another expensive information campaign, something new was tried.
Radio audiences can now tune in to BodyLove, created by public-health professor Connie Kohler, to hear the continuing saga of two families dealing with diabetes. The weekly 15-minute drama Connie and her writers pull from actual case studies is so riveting, it has become a popular staple for those affected and even those not.
But the biggest impact is on those who have changed their lives thanks to what the characters on their favorite serial do. Many times, the show’s characters give into temptation to overeat or eat poorly, and the audience identifies. But more often than not, when a character on the show breaks from the habit of drinking sugary soda and embracing a daily exercise program, so do the listeners!
By telling a story that resonates, lives are being saved.
Applying story to the problem of telling hard, cold facts and dramatizing things that are seemingly “dry” topics is one I am familiar with thanks to my father’s work in children’s educational televison. Educators know full well the impact that Sesame Street has had on learning, one of many shows my Dad helped produce, and others like Big Blue Marble showed stories of kids around the world to improve not only our sense of geography but humanity. “Edu-tainment” became the buzzword at our house — if you could entertain while learning, the lesson stuck.
Knowing storytelling tools can supercharge the lesson. And the writer’s expertise when it comes to meeting and identifying heroes, and sending them on an adventure we can understand and root for, is powerful.
We can look for many opportunities to serve that aren’t just making big-ticket spec screenplay sales. Story is story, and our skills in the world’s most important tradition can be applied to any number of situations.
If you have an idea to use story to solve a problem, let’s hear it. What are some radical ways storytelling can be applied to a problem?
And if you have a program that you want to get off the ground, and need writers to help you, I have a whole long list of brilliant, creative, and dedicated steely pros ready to be called.
We are ready with sharpened pencils — just waiting for the Bat signal!
What if there was a story written about the War?
What if so many of our Men (and Women) were being
killed that we needed to send additional troupes over
in a hurry.
Where do we get them?
Well I find that all over this country there are young
men who are quite proficient with a pistol.
Why not set up a boot camp? …give them a little training,
(they won’t need much these guys are good. I mean they
don’t even use a lot of bullets. One shot to the head. DEAD.)
Yeah. Love to read a story about putting this knowledge of
weapons to good use.
TITLE: A Driveby…a terrible thing to waste.
Blake’s blog illustrates how the art of storytelling can change lives and behavior permanently. Snyder talks about an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times about storytellers who through a serialized radio drama about weight, obesity and diabetes can make people listen about what they must do to improve their health. Fans of the show from Alabama who must understand how to improve their own health don’t even listen to their own doctors — yet they rush to listen to stories about their favorite characters who improved their health through these serialized episodes on a show called “BodyLove.” Through storytelling, the listeners get the point, and finally stave off the dire consequences of uncontrolled diabetes which are: amputation of toes, legs, stroke and heart disease.
The US has spent billions of dollars on diabetes prevention in public health programs; Japan’s fastest growing epidemic is also weight-related illness as China, India and other countries grapple and governments are at a loss as to how to prevent.
Could prevention be as simple a solution as telling a story? This is so simple it’s silly! Storytellers should be hired everywhere to improve and change lives, no matter what field — public health, crime, law — the list goes on. We are bombarded with didactic messages every day, yet the voice of the average everyday storyteller armed and trained with knowledge of the craft, which Blake’s books provide, may be the best cure of all.
This brings to mind an early form of “affecting society with stories” – the Parables of the Bible. By telling a “story”, early philosophers and prophets “taught” people how to behave, how to take care of themselves, take care of others, live their lives in balance and harmony. I guess if you extrapolate backwards far enough, even cavemen telling stories about their latest hunt were doing the same thing – “Og went to hunt giant sabre-tooth cat. Og threw spear. Og miss cat. Cat eat Og. Moral: If hunting giant cat with spear, don’t miss.” Voila, the entire clan now knows something they perhaps didn’t before the story. Plus, the writer has created the first situation comedy.
Being a storyteller is the best way I can think of to serve my fellow humans.
- Sarah Beach
The thing about storytelling to educate is that the story still has to be on a personal level. Sure, intellectually, we can all understand that melting icecaps at the poles can have serious effects, but we don’t see how the consequences work out, not in a graspable way.
But tell a story of a boy growing up on a small, low-laying coastal island, part of a low income family. Tell about how every year, the water creaps further into the island, the lowest areas turn to marsh first, then are underwater. Tell about the boom in mosquitoes in the summer because of stagnant water on the island and the diseases mosquitoes can carry….
If you’re going to “educate” through story, always, always, make it personal, and make the audience care about the characters it’s happening to.
Or as Blake says: make it PRIMAL! ;)
- Robert Thompson
Yeah but…I’ve written stories like that for years and nobody wants ’em. I mean, most of my work has been geared toward social issues. I think that as soon as we try to work that angle, Hollywood runs the other way.
On the other hand, I agree that stories ALWAYS teach, for good or for ill. Stories certainly should educate people and prop up the moral structure, but hey don’t hold your breath for that.
BodyLove is seeking great storytellers/writers for four new seasons, as well as for other serial dramas that the non-profit, Media for Health, produces. No health expertise required — just the ability to write wonderful stories with cliffhangers, jaw droppers, and maybe a little lyin’ and cheatin’ — because no one is perfect. And who is that woman in the red dress? Please contact [email protected] with inquiries.
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On a BBC Radio show they are asking for Genius ideas that can be discussed on a comedy show.
The problem is global warming… the solution is outlined below.
I submitted the following…
My Genius Idea
Transparent plastic tubes that circumnavigate the earth. These are pumped with air that push air tight capsules around the planet. Small lay-bys at strategic points allow the capsule to pass through airlocks and pull over for passenger disembarking and the following capsule to pass. There will be two parallel tubes one for travelling west the other for travelling east. And also north and south with a spaghetti like junctions where they meet at the equator on both side of the earth. Branch lines can go to popular places not near to the main tubes.
Two large solar powered blowers or jet type engines at one location on each tube supply the air power. One blowing and the other sucking. These could be located in deserted areas. At the lay-bys there will be smaller blowers to push the capsules back into the tube. Where they cross oceans they could be sunk below shipping lanes. Imagine the views and scenery if they are routed through national parks and ocean floors.
The capsules will be the size of a comfortable car able to take up to 6 people with their luggage. Speeds of up to 200 miles per hour could be obtained. Hotels alone the route to cater for stopovers and sightseeing.
Benefits: – Less pollution from jet engines flying millions around the world. And the best of all no luggage gets lost.
Okay now write the story.