To steal a dumb phrase from our President's daughter, stories are "architected things," or as I like to tell my clients, "stories are designed objects for a specific purpose to connect with a particular audience." Or if you prefer the Reader's Digest, condensed version: stories are crafted to make people to feel something. When we sit around a campfire at night, we want to be scared. When we're in emotional turmoil, maybe because we've been fired or lost someone we've loved, we want to be soothed and maybe helped with advice.
I ask all my clients, whenever they ask me to write, to tell me WHO the story is for and WHAT the story is intended to do? How do you want the reader of this story to feel and what do you hope they'll do as a result of those feelings?
Humans are different from animals because of our innate impulse to craft meaning from what happens in world. We walk around all day in a narrative fugue state, seeking to fit people, events and data into our ongoing internal narratives. We do this until the moment we die, including as we're sleeping. "What does this mean?" That's the most human question ever, and the reason that storytelling exists. We never stop seeking answers.
Like you, dear reader, I craft stories all day inside my brain. But unlike you, perhaps, I also craft stories for my clients who pay me to do so. And the process begins the same way your storytelling begins, with a profound urge to make meaning from chaos and random events.
When I first meet with a prospective client, I am filled with questions, some of which the client has never considered before. Who is your customer? Why do they reach out and choose YOU rather than your competitor? What keeps your customer's up at night, or, where do they hurt the most? How do you bring change to your customer's life, hopefully in a good way? What do your customers like and dislike about YOU?
All of these questions, and many more, help ME make meaning of the client's business and understand they interact with customers. I demand that my clients view their customer as a human with a problem to be solved, and then ask my client to help me understand how they solve customer problems. If a business isn't solving customer problems, it's not a business for long.
Data and product specifications and software demos are great (I access them constantly in my work), but they don't create emotional responses. Customers make decisions through their emotions first, and then confirm those decisions by marshaling facts and data and "rational arguments" around what they've already decided. "People are rational beings," said no storyteller ever.
Storyteller's go to the pain and the conflict and the uncertainty of human life, because that's where stories live, in the gray and confusing areas that unsettle us. The narratives that I craft, through understanding my client and the customer, through the research I do and the people I interview, through the way I organize the narratives, through every choice I make along the way, are about delivering meaning to people searching desperately for meaning and human connection.
I don't have a template where I insert names and stories just happen. Clients can hire robots to do that, not me. Every story is different; every storyteller is different; every reader is different. We are all simply trying to find meaning in our own ways, and I'm trying to get the reader to trust me and to follow me on the story's journey until I've written my last word.