Category Archives: Writing Tips

The Power of Storytelling

Love this author and her latest post from her blog SaaniaSparkle. Find this and more wisdom at her site https://saania2806.wordpress.com

The Power of Storytelling

There is an ancient parable very close to my heart, which goes as follows: a Jewish man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by robbers, leaving him half dead. A priest and a Levite saw him yet passed by. But a Samaritan came to where the man was and bandaged his wounds. Then, put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn, and cared for him until he healed. Today, this beautiful story is the etymology of the phrase “good Samaritan”, a person who is a “neighbor” not just to people of their own group (at the time, there was intense hostility between Samaritans and Jews). We understand it, remember it, and retell it later because the idea of love, compassion, and a man crossing a tremendous social gulf to help a wounded man sticks with us. The story may even change our behavior in some way as we remember to help others in times of distress. Legendary stories like these encapsulate: stories hold a miraculous power.

Made to Stick is a book I read written by two brothers, Chip Heath, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University and Dan Heath, a senior member for Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University. The brothers explain, “stories are told and retold because they contain wisdom. A story’s power is that it provides simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act).” Being a health and fitness freak, the key example highlighted in the book sticks with me: the Jared Campaign for Subway. In the late 1990’s, Subway launched a campaign to tout the healthiness of a new line of sandwiches. This campaign was based on the statistics: seven subs under six grams of fat. Sounds pretty good yeah? But this 7 under 6 idea didn’t stick quite like Subway’s next campaign which focused on the remarkable story of Jared. Jared, a college student, was seriously overweight, ballooning up to 425 pounds. But by spring, Jared decided to slim down. He had his first Turkey sub. He eventually developed his own all-Subway diet: a foot long veggie sub for lunch and a six-inch turkey sub for dinner. After 3 months of this diet, he dropped almost 100 pounds. Coad and Barry, president of the advertising agency Hal Riney, found out about this and thought, “we’ve got a great story on our hands”. They decided to run an advertisement for regional Subway franchisees. The idea blew the internet. Unlike the 7 under 6 idea which only held logos, the tale of Jared holds a simulation value as well as pathos, the emotional resonance which provides inspiration. Perhaps we are not all looking to lose weight. But ‘fighting big odds and prevailing through perseverance’, now that sounds inspirational to any ear. And inspiration drives action.

That being said, not all stories stick. Chip and Dan hence came up with 3 types of plots if our goal is to energize and inspire others through our stories. First, the challenge plot. We all recognize this one, where a protagonist overcomes a formidable challenge yet succeeds in the end, attracting triumph and glory. As someone who is obsessed with Disney princesses, my personal favorite story, much similar to the Jared story, is the one about Princess Mulan. Mulan is a loving and determined daughter. Desperate to prevent her ailing father from being drafted by the army, she disguises herself as a man and enlists in his place. In the army, she must try to hide her true identity while battling the enemies. With determination and bravery, Mulan ends up saving both her father and her country. Seems like the quintessential challenge plot, right?

Second, the connection plot. The story of the good Samaritan fits well into this one. We live in a world where we are constantly surrounded by people. Connection plots are all about the relationships we form with these people. In the business world, connection plots create an emotional connection between a company, its products and its customers. Always is a company that produces period products for women. As a girl, watching the advert from Always titled ‘Like a girl’ made me feel proud being one. It showed a group of teens acting out certain actions such as “Can you throw like a girl?” or “Can you fight like a girl?”. Girls were illustrated as soft, wimpy, and sloppy. The ad then contrasted this by asking the same questions to little girls. These girls this time ran, threw, and fought normally. “When did doing something “like a girl” become an insult?” was the food for thought. All over the nation, this advert empowered women. Our power was unleashed!

Third, the creativity plot. As a frequent flyer, I have often observed how on-flight safety instructions are given little attention by most passengers. One of my favorite examples showcasing the creativity plot is hence the one about a flight attendant, Karen Wood. Karen wanted to make people care about the safety instructions on flight. “And as the song goes, there may be fifty ways to leave your lover, but there are only six ways to leave this aircraft:…”, she spoke. It didn’t take long for passengers to tune into her comic spiel. We can’t demand attention, we must attract it. Creativity plots help us achieve this as we do something different, harness creativity, and experiment with new approaches (within certain regulations, of course).

The power of storytelling fascinates me. Thousands of years ago, myths and legends were told through oral cultures. These then developed profound ways of communicating so that cultures were able to transmit themselves through generations. Think also about the way we get lost in fictitious worlds from the books we’re reading or the way we identify with different protagonists from the movies we’re watching. I often marvel over how the horror movies I watch haunt me in my sleep, or how tales of adventure like Princess Moana’s venture into the sea drive me to go set out on my own, how romance novels set expectations in love I’d possibly carry with me throughout my life, and even how comedic pieces make me fondly quote cheesy lines in my day to day life. In the marketing world, too, it is through storytelling that the audience is able to connect, engage, empathize, and most importantly, remember messages. As Steve Jobs exceptionally summarizes, “the most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.”

– SaaniaSparkle 🧚‍♀️

CYE Countdown – Dec 19 – Avoid Predictability

free-calendar-template.com

Thirteen days remaining in 2022. Will this year end with a feeling of success or with a sigh of disappointment? Or can you choose to take the middle way and delight in whatever happens; not waste time fretting over “outcomes?”

Today’s senryu: Avoid Predictability

How will your year end?

Plot twist, Deus ex machina

or lame out again?

Remember the encouraging words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “It is too late! Ah, nothing is too late …”

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7599367-it-is-too-late-ah-nothing-is-too-late-till

One more thought; perhaps 2022 is one more chapter in your life story. What makes a good story? Check out this post by Jordan at https://www.nownovel.com/blog/what-makes-a-good-story/

High Coo – Dec 9 – Christmas Card Day

The first commercial Christmas card/ blogspot.com

“Sir Henry Cole, a member of the British civil service, created the modern concept of the Christmas card along with his artist friend, John Horsley, in 1843, as a means to encourage more people to use the new British postal system. Their first card was sold for one shilling or about 24 U.S. cents. By the 1860s, the practice of sending Christmas cards was more or less in full swing in Britain thanks to the rise and advent of the printing press ….

In 1910 the Hall brothers open Hallmark in Kansas City launching the modern Christmas card with a new, 4 x 6-inch format.” https://nationaltoday.com/christmas-card-day/

Today’s senryu: Christmas Card Day

don’t forget, mail now

or better yet, consider

electronic cards

https://www.jacquielawson.com/card/christmas-rescue/

High Coo – Nov 15 – Senryu to You Two

Dr. B and Dr. C from The Two Doctors https://thetwodoctors.uk/

As a life-long learner, I appreciate great teachers, those who love learning and love helping others learn. Dr. B and Dr. C are role models worth meeting.

Most recently, Dr. B, has introduced his readers to Senryu (pronounced sen – rye – ooo). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJmzsBmog_Q

Senryu is described as “a Japanese form of short poetry similar to haiku in construction: three lines with 17 or fewer syllables in total. However, senryū tend to be about human foibles while haiku tend to be about nature, and senryū are often cynical or darkly humorous while haiku are serious.” https://www.languageisavirus.com/poetry-guide/senryu.php

Another good source of information on senryu is a blog called Failed Haiku at https://failedhaiku.com/2022/11/. Editor Bryan Rickert with founder and now Video Editor Mike Rehling offer regular publications and contests for participants.

My first knowing attempt: Senryu to You Two

wonderful teachers

encourage exploration:

who are you, again?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karai_Senryu

High Coo – Nov 12 – Emily Dickinson First Published

https://www.onthisday.com/people/emily-dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts and died 55.5 years later in 1886. Her first book of poetry was published four years after her death on November 12th, 1890.

It is reported that only 10 of her nearly 1,800 poems were published during her lifetime. No one realized she was such a prolific writer until her cache of poetry was discovered by her sister after her death. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Dickinson

What few poems were published during her lifetime were heavily edited to meet the “standards” of acceptable poetry as determined by the publishers of her time.

A complete collection of her poetry did not become available until 1955 (65 years after her death). “The Poems of Emily Dickinson — Emily Dickinson, Thomas H. Johnson”. Harvard University Press.

Today’s homage haiku: Emily Dickinson First Published

unacceptable

during your lifetime – today

you are a model

photo of Emily Dickinson http://mrshively.pbworks.com/w/page/32807325/EmilyDickinson

Publishers interested in book sales may not appreciate your work today. The “fickle finger of fate” may not “reward” you during your lifetime. Nevertheless, the reasons you write, and the acceptable standards of your writing, are something only you can determine.

quotesgram.com

High Coo – Nov 11 – Happy Birthday, Kurt Vonnegut

The New York Times

Regular readers of this blog know that Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. is my favorite author. Today is his 100th birthday and I am compelled to recommend him again.

Born 11/11/1922, he died in 2007 at the age of 84.

As reported by The New York Times, “Vonnegut died in the Manhattan borough of New York City on the night of April 11, 2007, as a result of brain injuries incurred several weeks prior, from a fall at his brownstone home.” (Dinitia Smith, The New York Times)

True to his irreverent nature, “In a 2006 Rolling Stone interview, Vonnegut sardonically stated that he would sue the Brown & Williamson tobacco company, the maker of the Pall Mall-branded cigarettes he had been smoking since he was around 12 or 14 years old, for false advertising: “And do you know why? Because I’m 83 years old. The lying bastards! On the package Brown & Williamson promised to kill me.” (Lev Grossman, TIME)

Considered the Mark Twain of his generation, Vonnegut wrote 14 novels addressing his aversion to war, religion and politics. All are well worth reading, yet lately, I have been rereading the book Pity The Reader written by Vonnegut & Suzanne McConnell (paperback published in 2020 by Seven Stories Press). This book is based on a short article he wrote for International Paper Company titled, How to Write with Style. In his succinct fashion, Vonnegut identified the eight things to remember to have a successful writing style:

  1. Find a subject you care about
  2. Do not ramble
  3. Keep it simple
  4. Have the guts to cut
  5. Sound like yourself
  6. Say what you mean
  7. Pity the readers
  8. For really detailed advice …

Here is my homage haiku: Happy Birthday Kurt Vonnegut

brevity revealed

your soul’s desire to find

decent humankind

Vonnegut with his wife Jane and children (from left to right): Mark, Edith and Nanette, in 1955 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_Vonnegut

High Coo – Nov 7 – National Book Award Week

nationalbook.org

What is one of the best books you’ve read this year?

A helpful reminder of well-thought-of books would be those that receive top recognition.

“National Book Award Week is held from November 7 to November 13 each year. It focuses on America’s future authors, books, and literature in general. The National Book Award is a set of annual literary awards in the United States….The National Book Foundation also awards two-lifetime achievement awards each year: the Medal for Outstanding Contribution to American Literature and the Literary Award for Outstanding Achievement to the American Literary Community.” https://nationaltoday.com/national-book-award-week/

After the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Booker Prize, the National Book Award is considered one of “the world’s most prestigious literary prizes” according to the NY Times.

Today’s haiku: National Book Award Week

honoring the “best”

is a noble attempt to

increase readership

One of my favorite books read this year is “It’s Not About the Wine!” by Brian Metters (aka Dr. B). Check it out!

https://www.amazon.com/Its-Not-About-Wine-philosophy/

High Coo – Oct 20 – National Day On Writing

Vermont Public Radio

For eleven years now, the National Council of Teachers of English has celebrated a National Day On Writing. In a 2018 position paper, the group updated their definitions of writing, writers and the principles and purposes for writing. For example:

Principle 3.2: Writers grow when they broaden their repertoire, and when they refine their judgment in making choices with their repertoire.

Writers need models and strategies—to find topics, issues, and questions to write about, to revise, to contextualize and connect their piece with others, to give and receive feedback. However, collecting those strategies is not enough; writers need practice not only in choosing a strategy to fit a particular purpose and context, but they also need practice in explaining why they made the choices they did.

See https://ncte.org/statement/teachingcomposition/.

I enjoy the challenge of seventeen-syllable haiku because the structure requires brevity. Someday I will attempt the Six-Word Story format. 🙂

Today’s haiku: On Writing

words, words and more words

often dilute our message –

simply, less is more

Learn more about this holiday at https://nationaltoday.com/national-day-on-writing/

blackstone.edu

High Coo – September 4 – What Blank Slate?

standard.gm

Are we a blank state? I disagree, there is no blank slate.  We never start with nothing since we are all composites of what came before us. Today is the continuation of yesterday. My brain is a collection of neurons and the synapses that result.  This moment is filled with energy from multiple sources.

As I sit here behind a laptop computer, I see a backyard with a row of beauty berry bushes attracting birds and many trees with squirrel nests and waving branches from the breeze blowing through and…..

In this office there are many books, pictures on the shelves, more pictures on the walls, a desk, two small file cabinets, three musical instruments and a music stand close by.

How many objects are needed for inspiration?  Actually, none.  Inspiration is our life force; we can’t help but think and ponder and dream and create and….. 

We are co-creators in this cosmos.  We are holograms of the life spark. We are “chips off the old block” and the Big Bang keeps banging away. Inspiration, change, creation are all words for the same thing: life

As long as we keep breathing, we keep thinking, I think. I’m curious – what are you thinking right now?

Today’s haiku: What Blank Slate?

Blessed by ancestors

energy continues to

stimulate action

ibiologia.com