By Nathan Young - Storytelling Consultant
There’s a post that floats around the internet from time to time entitled “Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing Fiction.” On that list there is always one rule stands out to me. The rule is “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”
It’s a great rule for fiction, but it’s also an important rule that you can incorporate into your own storytelling as well.
One of the primary aspects of storytelling is to create a conflict. It’s what gets a listener engaged and wondering what might happen next. A great way to frame a story around conflict is to focus on what the person in the story wants, especially if it’s something that isn’t readily available to them. What will they have to go through to get what they want?
The truth is we all want something at almost all times of our lives. We might have big lifestyle goals like starting a family, building a career, or traveling to every country on Earth; but we also have little moment-to-moment goals, like finishing the project we’re working on, getting that email out, or to finally experience some peace and quiet.
What’s strange is we don’t always stop to ask ourselves what it is that we want, out of life or even in each immediate situation. We act on our drives and impulses all the time, but rarely realize it.
If you are looking to integrate storytelling into your personal and professional life, it's important to ask yourself the question sometimes, “what do you want?” This will not only help in creating some direction to your stories, but also for developing the kind of self awareness that it takes to be a good storyteller, or even just a good person in general!
In an organizational sense, asking what you want can equate to all the common question that don’t get asked in organizational settings enough; What is the goal of this project? What are we striving towards? What are the desired outcomes? Are there alternative ways of working on this that might get us to our desired goals? Asking these questions can not only help you tell the story of your organization, but also streamline and create more direction for your goals.
Marketing folks can take advantage of this question when talking about their ideal customer avatar. What does my ideal customer want? What is the challenge they are dealing with for which we can provide a solution?
This is important for nonprofits too. When telling stories about the work your organization does, you can focus on the hopes and dreams of the people you work to serve. Do they want to go to college? Find a cure for a disease? Clean up the environment? Good storytelling makes it personal and talks about why these goals are important to the people in the story.
By expressing what you want as a desired goal, it gives context to the story for the listener. It points the direction that the story is going to go and also gets the listener more involved. Many times, the things we want are universal so by expressing the idea, it can help the listener relate.
But more important still, getting in touch with what you want is simply an important concept, as an individual, organization, storyteller and human being. The better you understand what you want, the more clarity you’ll have in your life that you will bring to the stories you tell. Obviously this is easier said than done. The key is learning that you are a person worthy of the things you want. It won’t happen overnight, but storytelling is a good place to start.
Want a little help figuring out what stories you can tell? I got the perfect tool for you. Sign up below and I’ll send you my Story Planner Worksheet. It will walk you through the steps of turning what is important to you into a story.