The healing power of story and why you should use negatives
Plus a fun find from Christopher Nolan
I took last week off as I moved across an ocean but I'm back with one quote, two tactics, and three resources to level up your storytelling.
I’m curious – what’s one aspect of storytelling you struggle with? I’ll tailor the content for upcoming pieces around the most common / interesting responses.
Today’s newsletter takes about 3 minutes to read and you can check out the latest one here.
“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” – Karen Blixen
This quote made me think of author Elie Wiesel, who wrote the phenomenal book Night, an autobiographical account of his time in a concentration camp.
He later said: “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”
For him, telling his story was how he bore witness.
1/ State the negative
Saying what something is not, rather than what it is, is often better for storytelling. Let’s look at an example:
“I’m stupid, slow, and ugly.”
“I’m not clever, I’m not fast, and I’m not attractive.”
The second sentence is better. But why?
This sentence presents the potential for the opposite. It’s possible to be clever, but I’m not. It’s possible to be fast, but I’m not. It’s possible to look good, but I don’t.
The power of negatives is in the juxtaposition. It hammers home the allure of the opposite. Whereas if you state the positive, no opposite is implied.
2/ Don't set expectations
If you tell me “you’ll love this story, it’s hilarious” my bar for funny has suddenly shot way up. Now to exceed my expectations, you have to deliver even higher. Whereas if you hadn’t set my expectations for me, then I’d be happy with a merely funny story.
The phrase 'underpromise, overdeliver' even applies to storytelling.
Episode: My First Million – One Question Friday: How do you keep your imagination alive?
I talk about “starting your story with the end in mind” a lot. Well, the MFM team explained the power of that idea better than I ever could in the span of 15 minutes.
Essentially, it’s the key to unlocking your imagination as an adult.
I talk to founders every week about how to tell the story of both themselves and their startup.
Marketing Examples recently put out this image which breaks down seven content pillars founders should focus on to build a compelling personal brand:
One Hidden Gem
I’ve become fascinated with how Christopher Nolan (producer of The Dark Knight series, Inception, and Tenet among others) tells stories. Here’s his hand-drawn plot map of Inception:
A message from... Me!
The interest in this tweet blew me away...
One way to become a better storyteller:
Take your two favorite authors. I recommend one non-fiction and one fiction.
Copy, word for word, their best work. Do it by hand.
I chose Paul Kalanithi and Neil Gaiman.
It’s the single exercise that improved my writing the most.
— Nathan Baugh 🗺️ (@nathanbaugh27)
Jan 5, 2023
In my experience, there are two ways to get good at storytelling:
Study the greats (what this newsletter is for)
Practice, practice, practice
I do a lot of practice through StoryWork.
And so many of you liked, commented, and sent me DMs about the practice I decided to turn it into a guided course for you.
Check it out:
I hope you enjoyed that!
The biggest compliment you can give me is bringing on a couple more World Builders. I'll send you a curated list of frameworks and resources to become a better storyteller if you use your fancy, unique link below to bring on three friends.
Talk next week,