A Shortcut for Writing Stories for Professional Communication
In which your correspondent reveals exactly how to begin.
ood storytelling carries us by emotion.
To create powerful emotion, a storyteller relies on structure and calculation.
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What does a professional communicator need to actually write a story for a newsletter, a speech, an op-ed, or a blog?
Three things: a hero, a goal, and an obstacle.
Here’s how that plays out in several movies you know:
- Alien: Ripley must defeat a monster on her spaceship far from any help.
- Titanic: Rose tries to find true love even as her life and the lives of everyone around her are in peril on a sinking ship.
- Saving Private Ryan: Captain Miller must find and return with Pvt. Ryan despite the danger and horror of war.
In each case, the hero/goal/obstacle trio is clear:
- Alien: Ripley / survival / monster, lack of outside help
- Titanic: Rose / love / sinking ship
- Saving Private Ryan: Captain Miller / return with Private Ryan / war
If you write speeches and business communications, your first thought might be that this movie-inspired template doesn’t help you. Yet every story must fit this template. And it does:
- A young person must find a way to overcome a bully while living in a neighborhood with few resources to help.
- The team must finish a complex proposal before it’s too late to bid on the job.
- One person tries to persuade another to wed despite the other’s doubts about love and marriage.
The foundation of every story is
hero / goal / obstacle.
If the story you have in mind doesn’t have a hero, a goal, and an obstacle, one of two things is true: You haven’t yet identified them, or you’re trying to wrench a mere situation into a story. Think of it this way: I went to the store
is not a story. It’s simply a situation, because there is no obstacle. I went to the store and on the way I got lost
—that’s a story because all three elements are there.
The hero/goal/obstacle setup is what we’ll call Act I. Don’t let the theatrical sound of that phrase throw you. Act II is the central character or “hero” working to defeat the obstacle. Act III is the hero finally and completely overcoming the obstacle to achieve the goal.
Act II and Act III are worth study, but are not nearly as complex as Act I. Understanding Act I will get you pretty far as a professional communicator who wants to write strong stories. Get Act I right—the trio of hero/goal/obstacle—and the rest will come naturally.
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