Storycraft Jack Hart
In a world in flux, collaboration and cross-pollination of craft and subject will thrive. Siloed thinking leading to isolating behaviour isn’t going to be possible; even if we’re not in the same physical space. We need each other and our shared stories of struggle and triumph now more than ever.
A book that opens with the case for storytelling serving a universal need offers us the perfect opportunity for cross-pollination from one writing form to another. With each chapter of Jack Hart’s Storycraft, The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction the electronic grid in my brain was going berserk.
Ideas for application were flashing, from fiction writing to blogging and onto my work with startups and businesses. The book had me dashing off into the distance, roadrunner style to get started with my newfound craft knowledge; across every genre of my writing.
This blog is for Startups and those in business who struggle to come up with fresh ideas for communications about their business. It’s for those who love the idea of storytelling but have never put it into practice with their own business. I hope you will invest in a copy of Storycraft for yourself but in the meantime that this will open the door to seeing vast storytelling opportunities within your business and empower you to dip your quill in ink and get started.
Here are my top takeaways from ‘Storycraft’ for business owners and startups.
All businesses have stories to tell if they have clients or customers, and what is a business without a revenue stream? Whether it is a long or short story narrative, they could include:
– Case studies
– A common misunderstanding
– The journey of your product
– Your industry before your product
– Your life before your business
– The world before your business
Shakespeare used a 5 point structure in his plays. In screenwriting, I now use ten, and we’ve all heard of the three-act design, which, in its simplest form dictates that a story should have a beginning, middle and an end. The point of these structures is to ensure you craft your stories in the order that keeps your audience engaged and best serves your tale.
It’s a helpful guide, not an obstructive hindrance. Amateur writers see it as a hindrance, which I used to do, pro’s know that it is the ultimate tool. It’s a map, and you could get there without it, but a higher chance is that you’ll get lost and ergo, so will your audience.
Storycraft lists a five-point structure that you may find helpful in crafting your business stories.
2. Rising Action
4. Climax Resolution
5. Falling Action
Each chapter includes an illustrative example of projects that Hart worked on at the Oregonian; I have created an example own below.
A Business Story about a new Supermarket Stock App
EXPOSITION: Lucie is a service design graduate who was on the verge of starting a new role with a large software company when the virus hit and all recruitment ground to a halt. To make matters worse, she is stranded in London, while her mother, who had just begun the process of reversing type 2 diabetes is alone in Glasgow.
RISING ACTION: Lucie is unwilling to risk passing on the virus to her mother, so she stays in London. But she is increasingly concerned about her mother’s health: access to good fruit and vegetables and vitamins are essential to her health and so is ensuring that she stays isolated.
Her mother’s neighbours are trying to help out but have their own needs and driving around to multiple supermarkets to find groceries is increasing the risk for all of them.
CRISIS: Lucie finds out from her neighbour that her mother’s blood sugar levels are rising again drastically and she may have to go to the hospital if she can’t temper them; the stress of knowing this is also not helping. Online shopping is not a solution as all of the delivery slots are booked for the next month.
CLIMAX RESOLUTION: Lucie spends a day gathering stock data from supermarkets and grocers within a 5-mile radius. She also builds a list of critical products that her mother needs and opportunities for delivery from local taxi drivers.
FALLING ACTION: Lucie’s mother can get the groceries she needs, and Lucie starts to create an app that collects live stock data from supermarkets and grocers that are interested in endorsing her app.
Businesses are sitting on goldmines of story opportunities such as these and you can get them out in blogs; you can put them on your website. The more human-focused, the better.
Storycraft gives you real examples of work that Hart has been instrumental in creating in short and long narrative format, but the idea of the 5 point story structure can guide you through the process of writing your own business stories.
Story Craft moves on from story narratives to explainer narratives. He uses examples from narrative journalism, but there’s no reason you as a startup couldn’t use his structure to write about your business. An explanatory narrative isn’t about as much about a character as a journey.
“Readers will want to follow it the way they want to follow any interesting narrative.”
The book cites two components that combine to form a dual mission in an explanatory narrative.
The action line drives the story, which must have a beginning and an end in its mission to explain its subject.
But what he calls a digression line also runs through the narrative to put the action into a bigger context. Digression is a change of direction from the action line, a break. For business thinks of the experience of reading an article that simply relays one thing after another. It can get boring quickly.
One useful structure that Hart outlines in this section is the 3 + 2 Explainer which is:
Narrative 1 — Introduce the lead character and pose the explanatory question
Digression 1 — The necessary background and overall context
Narrative 2 — Follow the lead character through the main body of the action
Digression 2 -Complete the explanation
Narrative 3 — Bring the action line to a natural stopping point.
Using the example above we could create this type of narrative to explain how Lucie’s mother can use the new app in the business example above.
N1 — The lead character is her mother. She’s running out of fresh vegetables and needs to put an order in without leaving the house.
D1 — The background of the virus, her mother’s condition and the danger of going out to multiple places shopping.
N2 — Her mother runs her shopping list through Lucie’s app and arranges an Uber driver. They place the order, and the solution is in place.
D2 — the cooperation of supermarkets in Glasgow during the time of the virus; the shared goal of helping the vulnerable.
N3 — The groceries are delivered.
This is a topical example obviously, but I could easily create a 3 + 2 Explainer narrative for any one of my products or services so please give it a go.
Now we’re onto a sticky point with people who don’t see themselves as writers. They say they can’t write but they can.
You can. You can write words on the page, and you can improve those words with the use of a dictionary and thesaurus.
The painful thing is pushing through the mindset barriers, which is the same for all new skills.
Jack Hart has good news for you.
“The Writer Makes The Subject”
It’s like running; most of us can do it, and it gets easier with every step forward. That’s what I tell myself when I’m working on something hard. Just one word ahead at a time eventually makes a sentence. A collection of sentences will create a paragraph, and so on until the end of a blog.
“The ultimate secret to letting your voice sound on the page is simply to relax and be yourself.”
If you’re not at your most relaxed when writing, download a Dictaphone app on your phone and take an oratory approach to your writing. This could be a useful exercise to do anyway because we are most at ourselves when speaking, even more so when delivering a speech to an imaginary audience.
He also mentions the use of persona voice in essay narratives.
“The humanity that a clear-cut persona brings to a personal essay is one of the charms of the form.”
As a startup, you should have created your business personas, instead of writing in that voice, try writing for that voice. What are you trying to relay to them? On your website, what are you trying to convey to people in your voice, your natural voice? In your blogs, what is the emotion you are trying to evoke?
Under the chapter on action is a chapter on the language of action, and this is just as applicable to business writing as it is to narrative non-fiction.
The element that the essay and the business content shares are the readers. You need to compel your reader on in any written form. The ability to hold their attention will lie with the content subject but just as much the language.
“Too many would-be narrative writers dilute their impact with flabby verbs and weak sentence syntax.”
This is so applicable to business content. How many business blogs have you given up on, even though they have the right subject because the writing hasn’t engaged you? Or good stories ruined with dull filmmaking?
The key takeaways are:
Aim for transitive verbs, ones that need a subject to make them whole over intransitive
Use an active voice by placing the object at the beginning of a sentence. Put it before the verb. This allows the audience to connect with the writing. We’re humans and want human stories, after all.
Stay off empty words, ones that don’t move the action along. I’m not a massive fan of the triple adjective — which is often used to describe ourselves — passionate, efficient and dedicated — they all mean the same thing.
And adverbs are somewhat over, wouldn’t you say — what a wasted sentence.
I hope this has given you some ideas. If you’re a startup, you must be sitting on a wealth of stories. Don’t be put off by never having written a story before. We all start somewhere.
Whether or not you choose to create stories, you still need to deploy the tools of language to operate your business on a day to day basis. Focus the same source of energy on your written communications that you have on creating a business, and you will soon see the benefits.