Structure? That Sounds Important…
There's Always Room for Story
Here’s what you get in every issue of Into the Storymaze: writing insights or a work-in-progress; something creative I’m digging; a highlight from my comics-writing credits; plus a quote that’s got me thinking — both about right now and what’s next.
Twisty Little Passages
A lil’ while back, content guru Buddy Scalera asked me to put together a piece for an omnibus collection he was doing on some business marketing terms. Sometimes projects like this gel… but it appears this one did not, as the awaited “next steps” were never heard. Maybe a little on the dry side… but this definition on “structure” shows how applying a soothing balm of storytelling makes everything better. Instead of leaving it lonely on my hard drive, here’s to it getting a friendly reception from you folks. :) Maybe it comes in handy next time you’re got to play at being a professional. (I try to reserve scheduling that for alternate Wednesdays.)
What Is It?
Seth Godin described marketing as, “The art of telling a story that resonates with your audience and then spreads.” Story structure represents the essential elements of that art: building blocks arranged just so to capture and keep your customer’s attention.
Why Is It Important?
Stories are primary to human communication: we interpret, understand, remember and share by story. This makes storytelling a natural, powerful platform for marketing. The structure of setup, conflict and resolution are the key engagement points where customers identify with your brand, and appreciates how your product or service solves their need.
Why Does a Business Professional Need to Know This?
A story is not defined by word count. Do not confuse long-form content with storytelling. Your customers won’t. How do you get them involved? Engaging characters, and a central conflict integrated into a distinct structure. What is that structure?
Setup: Elicit interest.
Confrontation: Create tension.
Solution: Meet their needs.
Story is about their need. Because — and this is going to be hard for some brand managers to take — it’s your customers’ story. The power of story is that the customer puts herself in the position of the main character. Let’s follow a customer/character through that story structure.
Establish the current situation (so a customer later appreciates how things change)
Establish what the character wants
Establish what the character needs
(“Want” and “need” are two different things. Customers don’t want your product. They need your product to get what they want.)
Try a reasonable plan to get what the character wants
Fail as the problem is more complex than expected
Repeat and escalate to heighten tension
(Avoid the marketing communications (marcom) tendency to informational expediency: facts and bullet points. Story structure creates suspense: a desire to know what comes next.)
Overcome the barriers that keep the character from understanding what they need (your product)
With need in hand, the character solves the problem to get what they want
Recognize the new world made possible because change has happened
Long-form, short-form — good story structure makes for great content. And a compelling narrative for paying customers.
I dug this just on its pre-release description alone. The bold visuals and cool title helped too. Space crews salvage the carcasses of floating giants in the vastness of space, carving out their organic bits for profit. (If you’ve seen the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s a bit like Knowhere, the scene where a planet sized head of a powerful Celestial being has been turned into a gloppy mining operation.)
But one renegade crew wants to find the giants before they’re dead, and breaks off to track them down to the source. I’m only one issue in, it’s primarily set-up, but executed in a way that floats between crew members, past and present, in a fluid, conversational and OK, where is this gonna go?” kinda way.
When I started this, I wasn’t familiar with Al Ewing, and hadn’t connected the dots back to Immortal Hulk. It’s somehow more satisfying to get into a story solely on its merits, with no celebrity sheen. I came on Jeff Lemire’s work the same way, via the almost indie Roughneck. (Which is also very worth the read — but only one treasure to seek per newsletter.)
The Comics Labyrinth
If you’re not familiar with Sliders, it was an early Fox Network show that was generally enjoyable, even if not always up to its fun-tastic concept: a young genius inadvertently opens a doorway that sends him tumbling through the multiverse. Each stop is a distorted mirror of our world, with small or often large differences. In one, the dinosaurs never died out, and instead dine out on the human population. In another, academics are revered as much as athletes are in our own world. (This is something that is worthwhile to make happen in this reality.)
These “slides” — hence the name — were unpredictable, and threw the boy brainiac and his haphazard traveling companions into adventures both grim and goofy. Alternate dimensions are a familiar conceit to sci-fi, so this world and its broadly painted characters were a natural for the crossover extraordinary of comic books. There were several Sliders mini-series or one-shots. While I think I did most of them, they were never a guarantee: I always had to audition with a proposal — which, frankly, probably kept me on my toes!
They were always a great exercise in literal world building: a surprising twist for the Earth of the moment, and something unexpected for the cast, too. Returning to them recently, I’m surprised to find so many of the alternate situations I created were very *dark*: afflictions, invasions, catastrophes. I guess that pushes characters to make drastic choices… but I also wonder if I was projecting some issues. LOL.
If I was to suddenly slide into an Earth-X where another Dan (excuse me, “D.G.”) was still churning out these stories, I’d tell him, “Lighten up, man!” In this particular one, Earth has become largely uninhabitable thanks to the scheming efforts of a multinational corporation bent on “saving” mankind by transporting people off-world to eke out an existence aboard shoddy, for-profit space stations. Like I said… dark!
Web of Intrigue
"You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space."
— Johnny Cash
How’d we end up here together? Maybe a detour off the dark web! But I’m hoping it’s because you subscribed to this share-out of projects I’m working on plus things that have me jazzed. I’m D.G. Chichester. Which sounds very pretentious, and tweed jacket and pipe — so feel free to just call me “Dan”, and have a go at the last name as Chai (like the tea) Chester (just like it looks). I earned my word-cred writing comic book titles like Daredevil, Terror Inc., Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, along with all manner of digital widgets and websites in the world wide web of advertising. I keep my storytelling cred by trying new things — this is one of ‘em, with more on the way. I like weird and sometimes creepy tales, so if things here bend that way — now you know why!
Folks seem to like the comic book adventures I’ve written, so if you haven’t checked one out — please do. Many are now available in fab collected editions.
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