Do you remember the first time you read a gripping story and just couldn’t put the book down?
Be it a lengthy tale with carefully drawn out narratives or a series of comic strips with short and humorous quips – there’s just something incredibly compelling about reading a well-written plot filled with the unexpected. If you’re tired of tired clichés, read on to find out more…
Why stories matter
As marketers and copywriters, our goal is to deliver content that not only pops, but sticks in readers’ minds. In modern marketing, facts and statistics often occupy a large portion of the copy, quantifying distinguishing features of a brand or service. However, did you know that readers only retain 5-10% of statistics? According to a study conducted by the London School of Business, when that same information is conveyed through a story, the retention rate skyrockets to 65 - 70%. Given how much marketing material consumers are exposed to every day, a captivating story provides audiences with a reason why they should invest their attention towards you.
To clarify, “Storytelling is not inventing a story,” explains digital marketing and insight group i-SCOOP – rather, it’s about working the history and purpose behind a brand or service to intersect with the stories of their audiences. Through storytelling, marketers can better resonate with audiences – creating a stronger value proposition while nurturing more intimate personal connections.
Simply listening to stories provides a powerful learning experience. According to Forbes senior contributor Kimberly A. Whitler, “storytelling enables marketers to understand what is going on in the marketplace and what that means for the customer, consumer, society, brand and company.” By taking in stories from their environment, marketers and brands will always have the option of adapting and customising their approaches.
A tale as old as time
While creativity is definitely a factor in the making of a great stories, many follow a particular formula – the Hero’s Journey. Arguably the most archaic way of telling a story, it was first outlined by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and can be traced from olden fairy tales to many modern plots.
In the Hero’s Journey, the plot always revolves around the protagonist (the main character) who endures a life-altering challenge that forces them to change who they are – triggering a “rebirth” that moulds them into a better and stronger person.
In marketing, this method of story generation is often used to show how the consumer can overcome their challenges through the help of a brand or service. Be it Snickers chocolate bars or Mr. Clean cleaning products, many of their commercials follow a near identical plot structure – protagonist suffers from anger-inducing hunger or ineffective cleaning products, then discovers a lifeline (the product) and all their troubles melt away.
As compelling as the Hero’s Journey is, it’s been used since the beginning of time – forcing writers to think of new angles to the storyline. What made Calvin and Hobbes’ Mars adventure a pleasure to read was because the plot had a shocking twist which steered the story away from a happy cookie-cutter ending.
So how do you construct a killer plot twist? Rachel Scheller of Writer’s Digest provides a handy guide outlining four key steps: eliminate the obvious, redirect suspicion, avoid gimmicks and write towards readers’ reactions.
Calvin and Hobbes’ journey to Mars follows Scheller’s uncertainty path, and depicts the duo travelling to Mars to escape Earth’s pollution and make a new living for themselves. Being on a foreign new environment for the first time, readers alongside our young heroes are plunged into uncertainty right from the get go. Arriving on the Red Planet, the pair are delighted at the vast emptiness before them and eagerly begin formulating plans for the future – even having their photos taken with an old Mars rover and encountering a terrified Martian along the way.
After the initial excitement wears off, the two quickly begin seeing flaws in their grand plans. With no place to throw their food waste away or even an outlet to plug in their nightlight, they realise their very existence on Mars will ultimately result in its sullying – just as we are destroying the Earth. Calvin and Hobbes nobly abandon their pristine surroundings and return home with their empty candy bar wrappers and tuna tins, convincing themselves to tolerate their home planet despite its decaying state. What made this story great was that it was essentially about environmentalism and empathy for other life without preaching any of it – all while submersing readers in a fantastical space adventure.
Contrary to popular belief, plot twists don’t necessarily have to take place at the ending. Through the False Start method of storytelling, you can also lure readers into a seemingly predictable plot at the beginning before turning the tables on them! “This format is great for talking about a time that you failed in something and were forced to ‘go back to the start and reassess’,” explains software developer and storytelling experts Sparkol. “It’s ideal for talking about the things that you learnt from that experience or provide an innovative way that you solved your problem.”
Professional wordsmiths, marketers and writing enthusiasts all aspire to leave a lasting impression on our readers. With a compelling story and a devious plot twist, you too can guide your readers on a journey they’ll never forget.