Imagine a world without stories.
Most living beings, as far as we can tell, exist that way.
For human beings, however, stories are almost as fundamental as breathing.
I love the way Lisa Cron puts it, in Wired for Story.
"Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution - more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to."
As artists, creators, makers, part of our calling is to help others figure out what to hold on to.
We live in a world where internet access enables anyone to build or become a business. Technical skills, novel ideas, or access to capital are no longer sufficient to survive and thrive. As more creators monetize their independence, being a good storyteller is an unfair advantage. But how do you become one?
From crafting a personal narrative that motivates us to work with purpose, to microstorytelling for social media, independent creators must understand how stories work, and how to use them to gather people around us, around our missions.
As a rookie independent online creator with a background in filmmaking, I've spent years studying the inner works of storytelling, and how it is applied not only to drama, but to marketing and business. I wanted to create this resource guide for every creative person who is aware storytelling is important, but doesn’t know how to use it.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces - Joseph Campbell
Perhaps the most foundational thinker of storytelling, Campbell has influenced legions of filmmakers to understand, and utilize, story structures, myths and archetypes. He has spent decades researching and writing about storytelling, including a comprehensive five-volume atlas of world mythology. "The Hero with A Thousand Faces" is a classic that upon reading will make you see connections between stories and movies you've never thought as similar before.
His leading theory is the monomyth: the idea of the "hero (who) ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."
The Storytelling Animal - Jonathan Gottschall
If Joseph Campbell makes you understand story from a cultural and anthropological perspective, Jonathan Gottschall comes in to supplement with a scientific angle. There are only a couple of books that attempt to decipher the evolutionary aspects of storytelling, and I think this is the best one.
My favorite quote:
“The storytelling mind is allergic to uncertainty, randomness, and coincidence. It is addicted to meaning. If the storytelling mind cannot find meaningful patterns in the world, it will try to impose them. In short, the storytelling mind is a factory that churns out true stories when it can, but will manufacture lies when it can’t.”
(If you find this book helpful and want to get deeper into the weeds of story science, a bonus read I would recommend is On The Origin of Stories by Brian Boyd. Especially helpful if you want to understand how storytelling might have been the distinctive factor enabling human cooperation.)
Story Driven - Bernadette Jiwa
Bernadette Jiwa is a prolific writer and story consultant who believes that "story is our most persuasive technology." She writes an excellent blog on storytelling in business and leadership called The Story of Telling. She has written multiple books I would recommend, but if you read nothing else read Story Driven.
This is her framework for articulating our driving narratives and leading with story.
Building a Story Brand - Donald Miller
There are many business and brand storytelling books available, but few as direct and clear as Donald Miller's.
"Here is nearly every story you see or hear in a nutshell: A CHARACTER who wants something encounters a PROBLEM before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a GUIDE steps into their lives, gives them a PLAN, and CALLS THEM TO ACTION. That action helps them avoid FAILURE and ends in a SUCCESS." (Donald Miller, Building a StoryBrand)
He captures many insights essential to business leaders to clarify their messaging, but I find his writing especially relevant to solo creators who need to understand that when you're a business, you're not the hero - your customer is.
Most of my favourite YouTube videos on the topic of storytelling happen to be TED Talks.
Andrew Stanton - The Clues to a Great Story
Andrew is the filmmaker behind Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and WALL-E, a mainstay Pixar collaborator who has directed some of the most beloved animated stories we know.
"Storytelling is joke telling. It's knowing your punch line, your ending; knowing that everything you're saying from the first sentence to the last is leading to a singular goal. And ideally confirming some truth that deepens our understanding of who we are as human beings." Andrew Stanton
Jonah Sachs - Winning the Story Wars
"Stories shape our world. They're like verbal DNA. They tell us who we are, what's important, and how we should behave. Stories create our future." Jonah Sachs
The next two videos are less about how stories function and how they serve us, but rather, how they can work against us.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - The Danger of a Single Story
A noteworthy reminder: "Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. stories can break the dignity of people but stories can also repair that broken dignity."
The Dark Side of Storytelling - Suzanne Duncan
Suzanne Duncan is a financial analyst - as she puts it, "finance is probably the last place you'd expect to find a story geek." But she draws attention to one of the dangers of leaving stories we live with, unchecked. Stories give us a sense of purpose, belonging, identity. But what happens when they lead people to organize behind destructive missions?
"We're always the protagonists in our own stories. And all too often we either play the hero or the victim." Suzanne Duncan
If you're ready to go deeper, or simply looking for ways to practice what you've learned about storytelling, here are a few courses that may help.
IDEO Storytelling for Influence: https://www.ideou.com/products/storytelling-for-influence
If you're looking for a cohort course experience to help you craft your or your business' story, I would recommend joining one of IDEO's cohorts. IDEO U is an established online school that leads with design thinking.
Story Skills: https://akimbo.com/thestoryskillsworkshop
Bernadette Jiwa, author of "Story Driven", also teaches a wonderful online workshop with Seth Godin called "Story Skills." I was in the first cohort over a year ago and some of the frameworks I've learned I still use often. The next cohort starts end of March, and I might just take it again!
Muse Storytelling: https://www.musestorytelling.com/science
Muse started out as a production company focused on branded content (documentary-style filmmaking sponsored by brands). They run a fantastic community for filmmakers and occasionally offer events and courses on "The Science of Storytelling."
I love their process shared below, and especially, the mantra: "guide the heart to move the mind."
I truly believe storytelling is an underrated skill for creators looking to build thriving online businesses.
In a fast-moving online ecosystem, having a great story to tell is only half the mission - you must also master the telling.