#14 What Do We Know?

Not much, but that's okay. On truth, structure and the storyteller’s responsibility.

I’ve written a lot about the importance of storytellers, about our essential role in culture. Whether we are brand storytellers, creative storytellers or simply tellers of our personal stories, we, in our efforts, capture the human experience in its many dimensions. That’s a huge responsibility.

Yet, what do we know? Really storytelling (and living quite frankly) is a constant exploration in the larger search for truth. I’m not going to get into what “truth” is because I’m not a philosopher, but our stories—when constructed effectively—help get us a little closer to understanding and some form of truth as far as we can know it.

Unless you’re a journalist, which some of us are, I think the power is in the exploration. In being curious about the human experience, pulling out something interesting and then crafting a story around it, building an experience, bringing to life a brand. I’m certainly biased, but I believe journalists have a more practical purpose of finding truth within the context of our everyday lives—relying heavily on facts. (Which is getting harder and harder to do as powerful figures challenge the very notion of facts and pull us further from solid ground). For the rest of us, who exist outside of that specific civic duty, it’s our job to dive in, get curious and capture the moment as best we can.

So how do we do it? Capture truth as we see it? We might not know everything or the essential “truth” but we have to start somewhere when crafting our stories. For me it begins with the right structure. I’m big into frameworks and organizing thinking—it’s what makes me a good strategist and a clear communicator. When I’m crafting a story, I need an outline. A sense of where I’m going. Something to keep me and the story moving forward with a general positive direction. The hope is to achieve some sort of truth and provide new understanding for my audience. If I just dive into writing a story or crafting a deck without an outline it’ll turn into a meandering wank with little value for anyone who lives outside of my brain. That’s just me. I’m a Type A, Virgo, enneagram 5—I need structure when kicking off a creative process.

As a writer and strategist, I’ve relied heavily on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey (aka the monomyth) to help me outline decks and stories. Primarily because he did so much exploration into the fundamental human stories. For me it’s simply a guide. In fact, few of my stories on the other end of the creative process follow the exact path. But, along with other tools like want, because, but it helps me ensure I’m telling a story that gets me closer to the truth of the human experience. In fact, playing with this path and evolving it is part of that never-ending search.

(I’ll do a full dive on the Hero’s Journey and how you can apply it as a marketer or creative entrepreneur in another post—feel free to reach out if you need this knowledge asap)

If we’re going to do our jobs as storytellers—capture and contribute to culture—and be responsible about it, it’s on us to structure and tell our stories in ways people can understand. I’m not a pedant, and don’t expect you to mirror your story to this or any other structure, but I do hope you’ll be thoughtful and careful about the stories you choose to tell and how you go about telling them. I hope that we can be responsible and honour our crafts in the face of so many folks who have chosen not to do the same for the betterment of all of us.

A reader reached out and shared this talk by Kurt Vonnegut about story structure that hits on this notion of both the flexibility of structure and the idea of truth in storytelling. And how hard that idea of truth is. It is 17 minutes long but has a lifetime of storytelling knowledge packed into it. He’s also pretty funny. Let me know what you think in the comments. How are you using structure to help your audience get closer to truth?

If you’ve found this helpful or enlightening, please do share with anyone you think may find the same. And encourage them to subscribe.

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