I got the “The Best Story Wins: How to Leverage Hollywood Storytelling in Business & Beyond” by Matthew Luhn during the Grand Meetup (the annual meetup at the company Automattic where I work – you can read more about the Grand Meetup in Whistler and in Orlando) in September 2019 but only now had a chance to read the book. Matthew Luhn was one of the speakers our meetup and I was excited to read his book to see what it is about.
The book is rather short but it does exactly what is says – it goes through the principles of storytelling and how those could be used for create a business narrative. I think the book is a good general guide but as someone who studied literary theory at the university, I did find the concepts oversimplified. But they do work though for a short practical guide for getting started with storytelling.
Why do stories work? They depict the emotions and the feelings that we all go through – this makes them relatable. This is why it is easier to explain something, to sell something or to inspire a human through a story. But what are the key components of a successfully story?
Average attention span of a human is 8 seconds. If something does not catch our attention within that timespan, we are not going to listen further. Hence, if the first 8 seconds you need to add a hook – the beginning of the story to catch people’s attention with something unusual, unexpected, action-driven, or that raises a clear conflict. If you go to YouTube and look at the video thumbnails and titles, these are an examples of the hooks that content creators use. Luhn mentioned that the hook should answer the question “what if” – again, going back to YouTube, you can see a lot of titles such as “I did meditation for 30 days and this is what happened”. These are the kind of hooks that invite you to click further and watch that video.
Story LOGline, structure and characters
Essentially, every story should have a hero, a goal, an obstacle and the transformation element. And according to Luhn the story structure usually goes as following:
- The story starts on a normal day.
- The character is launched into an unfamiliar world, encountering characters and obstacles that challenge their way of thinking.
- By the end of the story the character returns to where they started but is notably changed.
Another important part about creating characters is making them vulnerable, Audience does not relate to perfection so the characters needs to struggle and fail and fight in the story. This vulnerability makes the characters relatable and the audience wants to follow them. For the inspiration to create vulnerability in your characters, Luhn suggest using your own experience and asking yourself questions such as:
- What is my bravest moment?
- What is my most embarrassing moment? etc.
The story structure itself should usually progress in six stages:
- Exposition (the setup of your story – who is your character, what they do, what do they want)
- Inciting incident (“when you take that one thing that your protagonist is most passionate about and turn it upside down by either giving it to them or taking it away from them”)
- Progressive complications (obstacles in the story that get more and more complex)
- Climax (“when the main character must choose to act on the lessons learned throughout the story, or turn their back on them”).
- Crisis (“when we get to see our newly changed character face and defeat their antagonist, or the villain”)
- Resolution (“neatly wrapping up all the various story threads of the main character and the supporting characters”).
Here I liked the prompt that Luhn added to the book for creating the base for your story – this was one of the aspects of the book that I liked the most: it did not just give theory but also included the options for the practical exercises for those who are interested in the storytelling. This is how the prompt looked like:
Once upon a time... > Exposition And every day... > Exposition Until one day... > Inciting Incident Because of that... > Progressive Complications Because of that... > Progressive Complications Because of that... > Progressive Complications Until finally... > Crisis and Climax And since that day... > Resolution
You can use that prompt to create the basic outline of your story. There are a lot more useful prompts in the book along with many practical examples of how Luhn incorporated the storytelling not only into making movies but also in business so I will let you discover those by reading the book 😉
Although the book was about the principles of the storytelling, I think what I liked the most is the chapter about inspiring creativity in the workplace. Many people work and do their job out of fear and not because they feel inspired or creative and I think it is the responsibility of our society and leaders to change this (and if you are wondering how, you can take a look at “Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek). On that note, I am leaving you with the quote from the book that I could really relate to – it is not easy to fight that fear but being aware of it is already half of the success. Until next read!
SO MANY PEOPLE OPERATE DAY TO DAY FROM A PLACE OF FEAR. but why? It all goes back to childhood. As kids we quickly discover that when you do something out of the norm, like being inventive or creative, you risk getting picked on or bullied. WE ALSO ARE TAUGHT IN SCHOOL THAT IF YOU DON’T ANSWER THE QUESTION THE “RIGHT” WAY YOU GET AN f. thE MESSAGE: IF YUO TRY NEW THINGS YOU RISK GETTING RIDICULED BY YOUR PEERS OR FAILING AT SCHOOL.Matther Luhn