Where Do Good Stories Come From? Part I

The eBook that not only tells you how but shows you, too.

Yeah, we’ve all read the message going around that storytelling is essential to good content. Ya think? Good storytelling has been a foundation for salesmen and merchants for thousands of years. Are the so-called “experts” just now linking it with creating content designed to sell our wares in a low-key manner? I will save you the “DUH!!!” that I so wanted to include.)

Anyone who is successful at selling anything has storytelling firmly attached to their toolbelt. Every successful CEO uses it to win his way with the board of directors, painting stories of higher stock prices, happy stockholders and BIG bonuses. Even my five-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, would get her way with storytelling.

She told me about a friend of hers that had a Teddy Ruxpin storytelling bear, that she wanted terribly. She told me how it made her feel when she had to leave poor Teddy behind. She then asked me, Daddy, do you know how that feels? Wow! The power of storytelling with a strong closing question! I knew then that she was a chip off the old block. Gabrielle had her own the very next weekend.

At any rate, here are a few suggestions to help you to build story ideas:

Tick, Tock! Tick Tock!

Have you ever wondered how much time is wasted when writers sit down to create and…….. nothing! You try to sell yourself, “I’ve got this. No problem. Why this afternoon I had six good ideas alone. “ The problem is, where are they now when you need them?

What I generally do is to start reading internet content on my topic. It never hurts to see what else is out there, so that you can customize your piece with a different perspective, or cover important information the competitors left out.

The knowledge gained by scouting the competition will provide ideas for things to use, and more importantly, know where the bar is set so that you can exceed their scope and value. It offers you an opportunity to be unique from the others. It offers you options such as writing a response to what you read, taking an opposing or different viewpoint.

The Benefits of Borrowing

Gotcha! How many of you thought I was going to suggest that we plagiarize each other until we become one giant incestuous content pool? Nope! That would obviously be inexcusably wrong.  What I am suggesting is that you think about books you’ve read, movies and TV that you’ve watched and borrow a scenario that is appropriately similar to your customer’s situations. Put your own spin on it and express it in your own words.

Workshop of My Mind – Please Step Inside

I feel like I should read you a disclaimer of some sort here. My mind has a “whacked out” sense of humor so please pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Let’s build a story from scratch. Right off the top of my head.

So, how would this work?  I need to come up with a premise that would interest my prospective market. To do that, I will look for problems and headaches that my offering could resolve, thus making their lives and jobs easier. Nothing new that you aren’t doing already.

Choosing an Idea for the Story

I decided to focus on overworked IT managers. Many are putting in serious overtime, paid on a salary basis, of course. Next, I am going to recall various scenarios that I have seen in TV or movies, plays and read about overworked characters.  Bob Cratchit pops to my mind immediately. You may remember Bob as the overworked, underpaid accountant working at the Scrooge-Marley Company. It fits so well that it has to be my first choice. You can use nearly anything, as long as it is relevant to your customer’s problem.

Create an Outline for The Story

We’ll start out by listing the order in which the story will flow linearly. For the Scrooge idea, my outline would look something like this:

  • Introduce the characters and the premise of the story
  • Enter a point of conflict
  • Scrooge is visited by the Spirit of the Past
  • Scrooge is visited by the Spirit of the Present
  • Scrooge is visited by the Spirit of the Future
  • The Conclusion of the Story & Drawing the Parallel

Introduce the Characters & the Premise

I have chosen that the role of Ebenezer Scrooge will be played by Montgomery Burns in my version. (Yes, THAT Montgomery Burns!) A buddy, Ed, will play the role of Bob Cratchit. Bob is an overworked, underpaid IT Manager working for Montgomery Burns. Tiny Tim will make a cameo appearance as Ed’s son.  (Why? Because nobody does Tiny Tim like Tiny Tim. Okay?)

The story is about Ed, our stressed out, worn thin IT boss. It’s also about his job, his family life and how he feels about it. It would go something like this:

I was talking to my old friend Ed last week and I was sad to hear that Ed’s new perfect job was not turning out as he had hoped. Poor Ed was being run ragged, putting out fires and keeping up with his ever-expanding duties and responsibilities. Ed was particularly bummed out because he wasn’t going to be able to attend his 7-year-old son’s little league baseball game. Ed has missed every one of Tiny Tim’s games so far, this season. Out of guilt, he had promised this time he’d be at tomorrow’s game.

Ed thought about all of the hours and money that he could be saving. If only Mr. Burns had looked at the reports, he would have seen that they were not working smart. That with a few upgrades, Ed could do what he had been hired to do. Right now, he was just trying to keep his head above water.

Enter a Point of Conflict

Points of conflict set the stage for audience involvement. They adopt the position that Ed and Bob Cratchit are in. It causes them to become invested in the outcome.

Suddenly, in a moment of half-hearted courage, Ed decided to talk to Mr. Burns one more time. Something must be done!  The morning of his son’s game, Gert, Montgomery Burn’s bulldog secretary, wasn’t chained to her desk yet.  Ed, mustering up all of his courage, marched into Mr. Burns office. Burns didn’t even look up to acknowledge Ed’s entrance. 

“So, what is it. What do you need?” Burns said with a “hurry it up” tone in his voice. With a slight stutter, Ed tells Mr. Burns that he can no longer keep up dealing with all of the new duties and responsibilities and that things would have to change. They could either hire more staff or upgrade their technology (the product that you sell) to do more work with fewer people. Since software doesn’t get drunk and call out sick with a hangover, Ed was pushing the upgrade in tech.

Burns went into a rage, screaming at Ed, that if he was behind on his work then it was a reflection of his poor time management skills, not conceding that Ed’s schedule is overloaded. He also tells Ed that if his work isn’t caught up by the end of the day, he can go to his son’s game….but as an unemployed father. Immediately Bob panicked and ran back to his office to save the job his family desperately needs!

Burns is Visited by the Spirit of the Past

Later that morning, “Gert the bulldog” brings Mr. Burns something new for lunch. The Atomic Szechwan Pepper Chicken was almost too hot for Montgomery to handle. But, he wasn’t about to toss a $7.00 lunch in the trash. After all, he was frugal. Not cheap mind you, but frugal. Burns digestive system started sending “sleepytime” messages to Burn’s mind, and soon he was leaned back in his executive chair, he was snoring away.

The extreme spice began acting in concert with Burn’s digestive acids, and before you know it, he begins having extremely vivid, lifelike dreams. The sky darkened, as black thunder clouds aggressively made their wayin. Burns looked for shelter from the impending storm, but all he could see is a small figure holding a torch, growing as it got closer and closer. Burns didn’t know whether to run or thank God, that help was about to arrive.

The stranger arrived and stood speechless for several, tension filled moments. Finally, Burns snapped at him “Who are you and what do you want?” “I am the Spirit of Your Past, Montgomery. It is time that we assessed what you have accomplished and revisit your key decisions. Follow me now!”  Burns was instantly transported back to the office he had toiled in for most of his life. It was more home than his home was. 

Burns sat stunned at his desk, as the Spirit of the Past showed him select scenes from his life. He saw the story of how he built the company and the price others paid for doing things “his way”. The last event was the memory of the day that Ed had shown him this amazing technology that could revolutionize the “old system” saving hundreds of hours and millions of dollars over the years in cost reductions. Burns was terrified of change. Staying the same had allowed him to stay in business and turn a modest profit, but was it worth it to go in a different direction? Burns directly told Ed that “I’ll have none of this nonsense, as long as I am alive.” The spirit just mutters “As long as I am alive” and vanishes into mist, leaving Burns sitting at his desk.

Burns is Visited by the Spirit of the Present

Burns cursed as his attention returned to the present. He was disoriented, feeling like his mind/spirit had just descended back to his body at a high rate of speed. Was what Montgomery Burns had just experienced a dream or did it really happen? It sure as Hell felt real! Burns pours himself a stiff Jack Daniels neat, downs it and refills his glass. Sitting back down at the desk, his vision grows blurry and his head starts to swim.

He looks up to see a new entity in front of him, the Spirit of the Present.“I take it that you know the drill, now that you’ve met my brother?  He’s an okay guy, but he is so in the past. Not hip and with the times like me – Mr. Current.” Half listening Burns noticed how very little had changed from the past he had just visited, Same desk and chair, same window coverings, just a little more dust here and there.

He thought of his curt conversation with Ed. He finally notices the pain and anguish in Ed’s eyes and the furled brow. How he nearly ran from the office to return to work. For a short moment, Montgomery actually felt empathy for Ed and his family. Burns had never had a family to miss him, as he worked night and day, year after year. Then as quickly as it popped into his mind, his inner dark angel rationalized it away as being easy to spend someone else’s money on unnecessary and frivolous projects. Burns sipped his bourbon and contemplated.  

Burns is Visited by the Spirit of the Future

“I must have dozed”, was half mumbled, as Montgomery slowly opened his eyes fully and took stock of his surroundings. Seated in a church pew all alone, Burns turned his attention to the formally outfitted people who were speaking in hushed tones. He slid closer to hear what they were saying. “They say the wicked never die, but I think today disapproves that adage.”, said the older, plump lady in the purple dress. The two gentlemen listening to her, both nodded in agreement. The bearded one, in a haughtier tone and a staccato delivery, says “I am not the only one who is glad that Burns is dead.”

Burns sunk in his seat as he noticed the casket in the front, with his picture on it.  “Could I be dead? Was my drink poisoned?, thought Burns, as his blood pressure started to rise. Hastening from the church, Burns headed home. As he walked, he ran into many familiar faces, each offering a smile and a Merry Christmas to him. Burns recognized these folks because he had swindled them in an assortment of one-sided deals and loans. Yet here they were being nice to him, in spite of the price his greed had cost them.

Noticing that he was outside of Ed’s home. Moving closer to the window, he saw Ed, little Joe, and Ed’s wife Sarah huddling in an embrace in front of their artificial Christmas tree. He took notice of how the job had aged Ed since he first hired him. He then flashed back to how he treated Ed in their last meeting. Feeling remorse, Burns returned to the office. He couldn’t change what had happened, but he could at least consider Ed’s suggestion. 

The Conclusion of the Story & Drawing the Parallel

A rare occurrence suddenly happened. As an actual smile slowly, crescendoed into a beaming grin. Burns was actually impressed with Ed’s proposal, wondering “why didn’t he think of this sooner? This was a giant step forward for Burns. Being in such good spirits, he rushed back to Ed’s home to tell him the good news about “the idea heI just had.” Ed was already at the door, welcoming Burns in. After listening to him ramble for several minutes, Ed thought to himself that he didn’t need to say I told you so to Burns. All he needed was to see his family and that was going to be happening.

Storytelling is a subtle, backdoor to the minds of your readers. Many, will see the obvious parallel between Ed and themselves. This can cause them to mentally churn on it and come to their own conclusion that “perhaps the solution briefly mentioned at the end of the story just might solve MY problem. I should check it out.”

Bingo! Once they make that connection, it becomes personal for them. Even those who were affected, but for whatever the reason didn’t check it out, will carry that further with them. Eventually, the time and circumstances will be right and you get this call out of the blue. Cha-ching! Great stories produce results long after you presented the idea.

In this exercise, I over-emphasized the details in the story. This is the first of a three-part sequence. In the next draft, we will make it shorter and more concise so as to capture and hold the reader’s attention, not to mention capturing a few of the “scanners” too.

Famous Last Words

“The more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in.”

― Henry Green

The Hank Moody School of Creative Writing

In this exercise, I over-emphasized the details in the story. This is the first of a three-part sequence. In the next draft, we will make it shorter and more concise so as to capture and hold the reader’s attention, not to mention capturing a few of the “scanners” too.

The Big Kumbaya in CyberSpace

Sharing and discussing content posts brings us together as one. Sharing ideas, answering and asking questions makes us all strong. Please take the time to share what works for you.

To hear the rantings of other voices on the same subject:

The Art of Storytelling in Content Marketing by Sarah Burke

5 Ways to Come Up with Great Story Ideas by Brian Clems


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    Gerry Nason Written by:

    Gerry Nason is a Senior Content Copywriter for HiP B2B. He also has extensive experience with generating high quality executive leads. Gerry worked for six years as the Producer & Director of a weekly music show, appearing on cable access TV in New England. During those six years, In Tune won 18 awards for video excellence.

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