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!