The power of stories

This should have a profound impact on how we share Jesus with people. Less propositions. More stories.

I’m aware of the irony in that sentence. It would have a profound impact on how I blogged if I was able to figure out how to tell a story about telling stories – and just how powerful they are.


A guide to story telling from a video making company

Storytelling is the new communication. In fact. It’s the old communication. These tips are pretty good. If you want to make stories that people are interested in. It’s properly basic stuff. With some nice tips and twists.

Some of these are video specific – which is great if you want to catch up with the present, and communicate into the future – but most of them are generic enough to be slightly relevant to the non-video world.

Here’s a nice coffee “story”…

Coava, a case study of storytelling from stillmotion on Vimeo.

The definitive and authoritative guide to the six basic plot lines

I made a comment in my Avatar post that accusations of plot plagiarism are hollow when there are only a limited number of plots to choose from. I set that limit at six. I was called out on that limit and asked to define them. So. Here goes.

  1. Star crossed lovers – an unlikely pair meet from different tribes, nations, species etc but their love is not meant to be and ultimately leads to some sort of sacrifice. Think Romeo and Juliette, Avatar, Samson and Delilah, or any Rom-Com where a loser somehow scores his dream girl from the other side of the social tracks.
  2. Buddy movie – two friends go on a merry adventure – think Milo and Otis, any Jackie Chan comedy, Lethal Weapon 1, 2, 3…
  3. The unlikely hero thrust into an equally unlikely situation or sporting event – think The Lord of the Rings, any sporting movie, any movie about superhero (genetic mutations, spider bites etc). Basically the hero has to come to grips with their powers and then choose to say the day. This has been popular since Jesus.
  4. The “betrayal twist” – take the unlikely hero, or the buddy adventure and have the hero be betrayed, or the buddy be betrayed by a buddy – think the Matrix, Mighty Ducks, any story about Julius Caesar, Jesus and Judas etc.
  5. The tragedy – simple recipe – develop characters, get people to like the characters and then unjustly kill the character people like the most with a disease or act of unwarranted evil. Think just about any chick flick that is not a Rom Com. Think The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, just about any war movie (unless it’s a buddy movie), or anything written by Shakespeare that wasn’t a comedy. There’s a slight variation where you think there’s going to be a tragedy but the protagonist escapes through a lucky turn of events – like Apollo 13.
  6. The “alien” invasion – where the alien can be any kind of foreign species or a freak act of nature but is often an alien. Chances are an unlikely hero will need to emerge to fight off the aliens. But add something big and ground shaking to the mix and watch everybody deal with the consequences. Think Men in Black, Transformers, Alien, Predator, Alien v Predator, Independence Day, The Perfect Storm, etc…

Just about all of these can be applied to the story of Jesus. Jesus is an alien who comes to earth to be tragically killed following a betrayal by one of his buddies. His ministry involves him using his awesome powers while walking around with his band of merry disciples. He does this all because he loves the world and wants to save it – which is ultimately his downfall. Only it’s actually an untragedy because he comes back to life.

Can you think of any stories not covered by these options? I can’t. Not any that I’d want to watch anyway.

For a different set of “plot types” check out this article that features a few different ways of breaking plots down.

Change we can believe in

The problem with campaigning on a definitive narrative – or theme – is that you’ll be stuck with it when you get into office. Like the Rudd government and the economic albatross around its neck – Obama is now stuck with this rhetoric of change. And is copping criticism for appointing people with Washington experience. His whole campaign message was predicated on getting rid of the influence of lobbyists. Not getting rid of everyone in Washington…

Here’s Obama’s take on the situation from the Huffington Post.

“So it would be surprising if I selected a Treasury Secretary who had had no connection with the last Democratic administration, because that would mean that the person had no experience in Washington whatsoever. And I suspect that you would be troubled and the American people would be troubled if I selected a Treasury Secretary or a chairman of the National Economic Council, at one of the most critical economic times in our history, who had no experience in government whatsoever. What we are going to do is combine experience with fresh thinking.”

How do you think?

Have you ever thought about how you think about things? Is your stream of conscious thought in the style of a documentary? Do you narrate events in your life like a detective in a film noir piece? Or does your thinking mirror a monologue to the camera like those annoying spots in Malcolm in the Middle?

Trolling through the links on Dan’s blog I found myself at the home of Michael Jensen’s blog. He’s one of the famous Sydney Anglican Jensen tribe. He’s doing some sort of study in England – you can find it if you like, but I can’t be bothered searching for the link. He posted an entry on viewing life as a stream of narrative. He’s a pretty smart guy. I didn’t really read all that much but it got me thinking about thinking and how I frame my thoughts. I think my stream of thoughts often flows like a stream of narrative – I do things in time and space, interacting with other characters and these interactions lead to outcomes – problems are resolved, conflicts arise… and my thinking reflects that. I think about how to solve things – and the voice in my head (which I guess is consciousness not some weird psychological condition) follows the narrative, or even pre-empts and influences the narrative, when the interactive bits of life are happening.

News stories are taking bits of a stream of narrative and analysing the elements. The journalistic definition of “news” is information that is of some interest to the public. The approach journalists take when they report news is to answer the big 6 questions – known in the industry as the 5 Ws and 1 H – who, what, when, where, why, and how. If narrative is a stream of connected events occuring in space and time then all these elements will be addressed.

Being of a journalistic, inquisitive bent I find that my approach to the narrative of my life has been somewhat influenced by this paradigm (paradigm is one of my favourite words). Not only do I approach any “conflict” or events that arise in my narrative (life) through the framework provided by these questions – but I’ve started viewing every event that occurs in terms of its newsworthyness.

There are a number of jokes out there featuring different professions and how they see the world – or the simple things in life. A true story I heard recently featured a group of people watching the football – a dentistry student, a med student, and an excercise/sports science student. During the game there was an incident where a player collided with another player’s head. Play was stopped while the player received some medical attention. The dentist commented on the effect the impact would have on the player’s teeth, the med student named the bones that may have been fractured, and the sports science student pointed at a guy in the background and said “he’s doing that static stretch wrong.”

And here, after that complicated five paragraph intro is the story that prompted this post… last night I was driving home from Mission Beach (where I’d been for a work function featuring Beechworth bakery owner Tom O’Toole (an interesting character)) with one other member of the Townsville Enterprise team. It’s a 2.5 hour drive to Mission Beach from Townsville – some say 3. Just outside of town we were stopped by a collection of emergency service vehicles attending the scene of a major accident… and do you want to know what my first thought was? Where are the TV cameras… this is a news story. I had my phone in my hand calling WIN television’s news director with the hot tip before I’d even considered the possibility that people may have been seriously hurt by the crash. When did I become so callous? Have I been that desensitised by years of watching and reading the news? Tom O’Toole made a comment about watching the news that was funny enough to repeat:

“If a dog came into your house and pooed on the ground while you were eating dinner you wouldn’t just sit there and watch him – you’d kick it out of the house, or worse… but every night we let the news do the same thing – it feeds half an hour of crap into our living rooms and we just watch it without thinking. I stopped watching news 20 years ago, and now when I turn on the television it’s the same news anyway – same wars, same crimes, same politics… you may not be what you eat, but you are what you fill your head with.”

Has anyone else been so obviously scarred by their profession? Do the teachers out there see every event in life as an opportunity to fill a lesson plan? Do opera singers see every tragedy as a potential aria (the style of song not the Australian Recording Industry Award)? Do IT people ever see any events that happen in the wider world? and do proctologists just think the world is a bunch of (feel free to insert an appropriate colloquialism here – I’m not going to do your dirty work for you).