As a writer, you want people to pay attention to what you have to say…
But with people processing over 100,000 digital words every day, you’ve got your work cut out.
With so much clutter and noise, how can you possibly stand out and get your words noticed?
Perhaps storytelling is the answer.
Stories light up our brain and fire neurons in the same way as an actual physical action would.
They arouse our emotions, stimulate learning, command attention and persuade action.
The makeup of a well-crafted story comes down to interesting characters, relatable plots, and most importantly, a feeling of vulnerability and connection.
So what about crafting a compelling story your audience will love?
I’ve created an easy to remember story structure for you to take away and apply, called the 5C’s of Storytelling. (Kudos to the likes of Nancy Duarte, Seth Godin and Peter Guber for their inspiration.)
Part one of this story structure is about creating an emotional connection with your audience.
We may think through things rationally, but we make decisions based on emotion.
Emotion trumps rationality when push comes to shove.
If you’re frightened, excited, hopeful, sad, it will take over your rational mind and influence you to make decisions that would not normally make sense.
If you don’t tap into your reader’s emotions—that layer below the surface—engagement is impossible.
That share, comment, opt-in or new customer becomes more distant than ever.
People are crying out for stories, human connection and a peek below the hood of your tough exterior.
Emotions help you build relationships with your audience. Relationships that last longer than the vanity-driven world of a Tweet or banner-ad click.
If you connect personally with your audience, the relationship is a lifelong journey. It’s a partnership. And quite often one that will be very fruitful for your goals.
If someone can crack a smile, shed a tear or throw their book/computer/kindle out the window—you’ve sparked an emotional reaction.
One of my favorite examples of evoking emotion through storytelling is Ken Robinson’s now famous TED talk on education. In this enthralling 19-minute presentation, Robinson connects immediately with the audience through humor.
So try and deliver your message to one person, keep it simple and be generous.
This is your opportunity to personalize your story and have people locked in from start to finish.
But is connecting enough?
What good is building rapport and evoking emotion in your readers if it doesn’t inspire them to take action?
You need to leverage this connection by narrowing in on an obstacle your readers hold close to their heart—which leads us to the second element of crafting a compelling story.
The second part of the story structure is about highlighting a common pain point or challenge your audience is facing – with the goal of helping them overcome that challenge by the end of your story.
So get to know your audience. I mean REALLY get to know them.
What are their goals, dreams and desires? How can you help your readers move towards them?
What about their fears and problems?
Ask them what they like and dislike. Find out when they read, how they read and what type of content gets them going.
Observe them from afar and see what they engage with, what they share and what they truly care about.
Your writing should appeal to many but talk directly to only one person.
Make them feel special.
Highlight a core problem your audience has, and articulate how you (or your characters) were once burdened with the same challenge.
Don Purdum from Unveil the Web does a great job of engaging his audience by proposing a common challenge they face head-on in his introduction:
But even if you tap into a core problem or burning desire of your audience, why should they care?
At this stage of your story, it’s too easy for them to disconnect from the narrative and say; “I can resonate, but I’m different.”
Because everyone thinks they are different.
To keep them hooked and begging for more, you need to make them really feel the pain.
Telling them isn’t enough.
It’s time to for the rollercoaster of conflict to begin.
You want to establish the opposing forces that contribute to a less-than-favorable outcome for your audience.
Use vivid details at this stage so your audience resonates with the characters in your story.
Walk them through the worst parts of the problem they are trying to solve… All of the nasty symptoms and side-effects.
What has stopped them from overcoming this challenge in the past?
What are the competing priorities in their life that have held them back?
How does it FEEL when they don’t overcome this challenge?
Hop back and forth between the challenges, excuses, hurdles to them achieving their goals. And compound it with the desire to reach another destination.
Provide glimmers of hope along the way…
Here is an example from Jason Quey at The Storyteller Marketer filling his audience with a glimmer of hope when it comes to influencer marketing, even though the outcome still feels a bit beyond them:
Hope shouldn’t take over just yet, though. Introduce new hurdles that dampen these chances of success and remind them of how dire their current situation is and how horrible it can feel.
Your audience should read this conflict and feel hopeless, ready to give up and emotionally drained.
It sets them up for what is coming next when all their hardship withers away and they feel like their goals are within reach.
Now it’s time to provide some hope.
Show your audience how the characters have overcome the struggle presented. Give them the feeling that a positive outcome is possible.
As the story develops, take your audience on a journey from “close to giving up” all the way through to the results, feelings or accolades that your characters achieve on the other side.
You are putting your readers in the shoes of your characters, and making them feel like the solution to all their problems is in their hands.
By this stage of your story, the reader is so emotionally bought into your character’s journey. They visualize themselves conquering their problems and achieving their goals.
What results or examples can you provide to ride this message home?
Don’t hold back. Convince your reader that everything is possible and glory is much closer than they first thought.
Kevin Duncan from Be A Better Blogger has a way of always rounding out his blog posts with hope and inspiration. Here is an example:
The emotional rollercoaster is coming to an end, and your reader finally sees a resolution.
They are inspired, ready and willing to take action… But what exactly should they do about it?
Your job as a storyteller isn’t complete until you take your reader’s hand and guide them to the very next step they should take. Close out the narrative in a way that ties everything together.
Deliver a resolution to the challenge, ending on a positive message the audience can take away.
This is usually one part of a larger solution. (Especially if you are using storytelling to sell something.)
But your job isn’t quite done.
You need to guide your reader on to their next step.
What is the very next thing they need to do to start the all-conquering journey themselves?
Is there somewhere they should visit? What other resources would be helpful? Where can they get help or inspiration?
I love this example from Ana Hoffman at Traffic Generation Cafe:
Ana is offering hope to her readers that everything will be ok, and that their fears might have been unfounded. Plus, she is giving them an immediate next step to take.
Stories will help you break down barriers and eliminate the sea of noise your readers are exposed to.
The more personal you can make the experience, the greater the connection will be, and the better your results.
It’s your job as a writer to evoke emotion and connection very early on in your story, otherwise, no one will read on.
But that’s not enough.
If you truly understand your audience, your story will create a visceral experience that magnifies a core challenge and creates a feeling of mental conflict.
Until you resolve this conflict and empower your readers to conquer their demons, the story isn’t complete.
Every step of the way, you are guiding your readers on a journey, an experience and an adventure until finally, you tell them exactly what they should do next.
Keep your readers hooked for as long as you can, but when the time is right, hand over the reins and let others tell the story for you.