I (finally) started writing Spin Sucks this past weekend and boy am I fired up!
Right now I’m writing the “Sex Sells” chapter, which has enticed me to dig further into the concept of telling our stories in interesting and compelling ways.
Until a week ago, I’d never heard of Larry Brooks, but after reading Jamie’s post, I spent some time (I won’t admit how much) reading his stuff.
A Story is a Concept
I am fascinated with how easily he breaks down storytelling. In fact, I can’t do it justice by paraphrasing, so I’m going to quote him:
An “idea” is not inherently a concept. Not until it transcends the simplicity of a singular arena or theme or character, and moves toward the unspooling of conflict-driven dramatic tension.
Too often the writer answers this instead: “What is your story about?” That’s not necessarily a concept, either. Let’s look at a bestseller to help (no pun) illustrate.
What is “The Help” about?
- Three African-American maids in the south. Yes, it is about that. But is that a concept? No. It’s an idea. A starting point. Could go anywhere. And that’s the problem… when a writer begins with something this vague, it often does go anywhere, several places, either at once or in sequence… and the story ends up being about some combination of nothing and everything. Such stories become an episodic “The Adventures of So-And-So,” which, like any other story, isn’t an effective novel until that becomes much more conceptual.
- Racial prejudice in the South. Yes, it is. But is that a concept? No. Not yet. This is more theme than concept. Could be anything, most likely a series of rather unconnected stuff happening to the characters.
- A book project between a young and wealthy writer that requires the participation of the black maids being oppressed by their white employers in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi. Now this is a concept. Because it describes more than what the story is about, it opens the door to a dramatic question.
Notice that the first two answers – an idea, and a theme – do not pose a dramatic question. And that the much stronger answer, the one that really is a concept, does.
Create Your Business Concept
I want you to think about this when you create stories for your organization. What is the idea, the theme, and finally, the concept?
Let me show you, using Spin Sucks Pro as the example:
- Idea: There is a big need for ongoing professional development in the PR and marketing industries. Something that transcends the two or three day conference immersions you have to create a way to come back to the office and implement, rather than have it sit in the notebook never to be touched again. If that exists, will you pay for it or do you expect it for free? Can it provide you tangible results to take to your boss (or clients) for a pay raise? Will it help you keep up with technology changes?
- Theme: There is also a need to manage communications in an ethical way, without spin, lying, or stretching the truth. You can build trust among your customers and prospects by telling stories about your organization. Stories develop humanization, which creates kinship, which drives purchase. By doing this, we’re also changing the perception of the industry from one of spin doctors to one of trusted advisors.
- Concept: Spin Sucks Pro is a professional development site that helps you stay ahead of technology changes, provides results you need for that promotion and raise, and builds your reputation as a trusted advisor.
How can you tell your story using these three points? Are there companies you admire who do this really well?