April 18, 2016

Creating stories that last

I am at my parent’s home on Merseyside. As I draft this my parents are poring over a crossword in that bastion of journalism the Sunday Mail.

They complain bitterly about how the Mail “winds them up”, and repeatedly insist they “only buy it for the crossword”. I once suggested that a crossword book might provide better value puzzling at zero of the annoyance. Apparently I don’t understand.

I hate doing crosswords. I suspect you need an inner accountant to gain satisfaction from completing a crossword – something to do with entering letters into empty boxes. If I learn a word I want it to be because I have actually used the word, not entered it into a puzzle.

Besides reminding me of my general ignorance at the world at large, a completed crossword also leaves the same empty sensation to doing a jigsaw puzzle, or watching a murder mystery drama.

A murder mystery drama, in my opinion, is a televised form of crossword puzzle devoid of any real character development. We all know that before the hour is up Sherlock Holmes will figure out who dunnit using his superhuman skills of analysis.

The only question seems to be how and when he will figure it out. In a desperate attempt to make the story more interesting our hero will then survive some sort of ill-contrived peril, such as falling over a waterfall.

The best book I have read this year has been The Seven Basic Plots, by Christopher Booker. In a book that took 30 years to write, and almost as long to read, Booker analysed hundreds of novels, poems, plays and films. He classified the stories into seven ‘archetypal’ plots. An archetypal plot is a plot that has survived across the ages and in completely separate cultures because it reveals some kind of universal truth about human nature.

Booker argues for example that the Epic of Gilgamesh, written 4000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia (now Iraq), has an almost identical storyline to the movie Jaws. He calls this plot ‘overcoming the monster’.

The opposite of an archetypal story is a stereotypical story. The Sherlock Holmes stories would not be as interesting to the inhabitants of ancient Babylon as they are to modern Londoners, hence the story is based around a stereotype.

All this is very interesting if you are writing a novel. But what if you are writing a smaller story to go in a nurture email? What if the story you are writing is only four paragraphs long?

We need to address the idea that you can write stories about any old drivvel that pops in to your head and call it a ‘nurture email’. The question I have been mulling over is: can we apply Booker’s story archetypes to a much smaller story contained within a business email?

The answer at the moment is I don’t know, but I’m going to try. Over the next seven days or so we’ll be looking at each archetype in turn, and looking at how you might be able to use them in your marketing.

We’ll start tomorrow with ‘overcoming the monster’.

Rob Drummond

Rob Drummond runs the Maze Marketing Podcast and Maze Mastery. Rob specialises in content production, ad creation, storytelling and CRM systems. He has two published books, Magnetic Expertise and Simple Story Selling, affordable on Amazon.