Pacing in writing and storytelling is what makes your story be read/told in a faster or more slowly way. You will not keep your audience and readers at the edge of their seats if you tell an adventure story in a relaxed manner. So it is important to get it just right. And the key to it lies in music – mind the pun.
In fact, storytelling and music can be seen like two long lost siblings. Back in the Middle Ages, troubadours and bards enchanted crowds and nobles with their stories told to the sound of a cittern or harp. Storytelling and music were so intrinsically connected that even in literature tales were written in verse.
What music always brought to stories was a sort of context. The initial notes would set the tone and pacing of the tale about to be told.
Today we will mostly find this technique applied to films, where music is used to underline emotion and – you guessed it – to set tone and pacing. This has become so inherent to the language of film and the emotions it triggers that we recognise and attribute certain music tones to specific genres and emotions. A good example is Hitchcock’s famous Psycho soundtrack: when you hear those high-pitched notes, you know someone is about to get killed.
But music is essential to writing too.
Music and writing
If you look at pianists, you’ll notice their hands play different notes. In very layman terms (especially because I’m no music expert), the left-hand focusses on the tone and tempo, while the right-hand plays the melody. The same concept applies to writing and storytelling. A story is like a melody that needs a base made out of tone and pace.
Surely when you read a story or an article, you hear an inner voice in your head. It’s as though your brain is telling the story you’re reading. Punctuation will help you understand when to stop (periods), speed (commas), or change tone (exclamation and question marks). That is to say, punctuation and the length of a sentence are what will determine the pace of the story – like the pianist’s left hand. The choice of words and the sentences’ composition are what make out the melody – like the pianist’s right hand.
At one point in time, as troubadours disappeared, music and literature took different turns. While storytelling remains relevant in music – from protest music to 1980s hip-hop – writing dropped its verse form and accompanied instruments.
Bringing Music Back to Story
The thing is, writing and storytelling cannot exist without music – or at least the musicality character that the craft demands. When I coach people in presenting on stage or news reading, I always ask them to think about the most suitable soundtrack for their story. If you want to share an energetic story, you’ll probably choose a fast-paced song, which means your speech must also be delivered in a faster tempo.
This idea of musicality affects your writing too. If you’d like to put it to test, practice some simple writing while listening to different tracks each with varied tempos. If you need tips on how to do simple writing exercises, check out my mini e-book here. After a few songs, you’ll notice how your writing changes according to the music played: from pacing to, sometimes, even content.
So next time you want to write or tell a story, start by determining its soundtrack. Listen to the song for a beat and then let yourself be carried away by its flow.
Storytelling Technique and Content Marketing are really good friends in the writing-for-business sphere. But like any friendship they may find themselves at odds sometimes, developing tension and yielding no results. The reason being none of them really knowing why it is serving the other.
If you are producing content for the sake of populating your media channels, you might as well stop doing anything and save yourself some time and, possibly, some money. No matter how good a story is if it doesn’t have a marketing purpose behind it, it just won’t sell.
Hey, I’m all for writing. Write as much as you can, every day and anywhere. I’ve even written a mini e-book about routine writing. But, since you are putting in the effort, wouldn’t it be better if your stories actually got read by the people you were trying to reach?
The only way you can keep the friendship between Storytelling Technique and Content Marketing intact is by letting them know why they are feeding each other. Think about it, surely if someone at the office asks you to do something, you are likely to ask them why. You don’t just do things for the sake of doing them, do you? You think about it strategically: the goal, the benefits, the risks.
By asking why you are addressing three crucial components to story and content: Message, Audience, and Goal. Because there is no story if there is no point (message); there’s no point if there’s no reason (goal); there is no reason if there is no one who cares (audience).
So, before you start hammering those lovely laptop keys, take a moment to consider the ‘whys’.
The first question in Content Marketing you have to ask is: why are you telling the story? In other words: what is it that you want to reach and what’s your target?
Once you’ve got that clear, you can move on to ask the relevant questions regarding Storytelling:
- Why is this story relevant?
- Why should your audience care?
- Why is this the best way (angle) to tell this story?
You may be wondering why is it that I’m focused on the ‘why’ instead of the ‘what’.
Simon Sinek explains the importance of asking ‘why’ quite well in an old Tedx about inspirational leadership. The ‘what’ is about selling a product or service, but the ‘why’ is all about inspiring your clients to acquire your specific product or service.
The ‘why’ provides an experience: it’s a revelation of certain values attained by you and your brand that go beyond materialism. It’s about connecting with like-minded people who want to be part of your dream.
Steve Jobs understood this quite well and it was this principle that led him to launch the Think Different campaign upon his return to Apple.
With ‘what’ you will make sales; but with ‘why’ you will conquer loyal followers who share your vision. And you know what those followers can become, right? You got it, brand advocates.
So, let go of the ‘what’ and embrace the ‘why’. After all, you’re here for the long run and your clients deserve better and more.
March 16, 2017
Five steps – that’s all it takes for you to blog effectively and put aside all that procrastination and frustration.
We are passed the personal blog era. Blogging is now an essential marketing tool in any company. It helps connect to your clients and establishes your expertise.
But often non-trained writers don’t know how to manage a blog, costing them time and energy.Here are five steps you should be aware of if you want to blog effectively.
Here are five steps you should be aware of if you want to blog effectively.
1. Know your Audience
Blogging for the sake of blogging gets you nowhere. You blog for a reason, and that reason has an audience. Whom you write for and what you talk about are key to your blogging success. You must feed the needs of your audience. If you have been blogging, check out the most popular blogs you’ve written and understood what they have in common – there lies the secret. If you haven’t written a blog post before, conduct a survey among your potential readers and find out what they would like to read about.
2. Set up a Calendar
Consistency is key. Even when people don’t set up an alarm to remind them of when your next masterpiece will pop up, they do expect a certain level of regularity. By creating a routine, you’ll attract more readers, who will start recommending your blog to their peers. Begin with one post a week.
3. Create a Content Pot
In order for your calendar to work out, you should have ideas. In fact, you should never run out of ideas. Anything can be the origin of a great post. Something you read, something someone told you, something people keep asking you about. Whenever that light bulb turns on over your head, write the idea down and save it to your content pot. It doesn’t have to be a physical pot. A note app on your phone, a folder in your laptop, or a notebook you always carry will do the trick.
4. Commit to Writing Appointments
So now you know your audience, have a bunch of ideas and a calendar – wow, that’s progress! All you have to do is sit down and write. Don’t find any excuses. Set up a writing appointment and honour it like you do with any other business meeting: you show up and you deliver. Dive into that content pot and write more than one blog post per appointment. Like this you’ll be able to pre-publish your articles, saving time to do other things. Think about it: if in one day you write three posts, that’s three weeks of blogging covered.
5. The Inspiration Fairy is Called SEO
The idea of a muse stimulating you to produce a great piece is very romantic but that is not what will get you to blog effectively. Instead of sitting around hoping for a wave of writing inspiration to take over, look at your content ideas and analyse their SEO potential. Your blog post should be found in the wonderful world of the web. And there’s only one way to do it: keywords. Find the terms that are relevant to your post and that your audience would search for. Include them in your writing (especially in your title, first paragraph, and url).
More importantly than anything else is that you start. Trial and error is what has led to some of the greatest discoveries of our world. You cannot assess success if you don’t take that first step. And once that is done, there are only four others to go.
March 3, 2017
There’s a Storytelling trick broadcast journalists use when reporting live on a story. You probably never noticed it. In all honesty, neither have most journalists themselves. They just do it.
At the beginning of my journalism career, I was an assistant producer at a fast-paced radio news programme. One time, the presenter stormed out of the studio after a live Q&A with one of our freelance reporters. “Never use that one again,” he said to my surprise. The reporter was good. He knew his stuff, he spoke eloquently, and never reported a second more than requested. But he had made the one mistake my editor couldn’t stand: he often started his answers with the words ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ and ‘correct.’
You are probably confused and that’s ok.
See, journalists are discouraged from asking closed-ended questions. These are questions that lead to answers such as the aforementioned single words. So we ask open-ended questions to stimulate deeper, and more meaningful replies. Instead of asking: “Are you ok?” – which will lead to a yes or no answer – we ask “How are you feeling today?”
But of course, sometimes journalists do need to ask closed-ended questions. A well trained good reporter will know better than to say ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘correct.’ So here’s the trick: journalists answer by repeating the question in the affirmative form stressing the action that can lead to yes or no answers.
Studio: “Has citizen X arrived at the court already?”
Reporter: “Citizen X has not yet arrived at the court… [rest of the story]”
The words “has not yet” are stressed to indicate the answer to the question posed.
But why do journalists do this?
The simple answer is: to save time and money.
Back to my journalism beginnings. After we had a live Q&A with a journalist, we always packed their answers into a report of its own. Unless new developments would come in, we would use that one minute from the live conversation in our next news bulletins. This would allow the reporters to actually have time to do their work without worrying about the next live block. Once there was something new or the story had changed – and it always does – the reporter would come back live with the latest updates.
In today’s world obsessed with live reporting, this economics no longer plays much of a role in the broadcasting landscape. But it has left a heritage behind. It has forced journalists to tell a story in every answer they give. Something that has a beginning, middle and end like any other report would – only it lasts 30seconds.
Stories come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes little is just enough. Addressing your audience for half an hour doesn’t mean they will get more from you than if you had spent 10 minutes with them.
Refine your message. Focus on the journey. Share the heart of your story. And very importantly, be original: don’t start your answers with yes, no or correct. You never who might storm out of the room enraged with your lack of storytelling capability.
February 14, 2017
It was not so long ago that the job of a postman entailed more than delivering bills and the packages from our latest online shopping binge. This was someone who used to carry the most intimate thoughts of thousands of people in a bag over his shoulders.
I’m not one to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Never have been. I’ve always preferred to value the moments that are unique to our relationship – the day we met, our first kiss, our wedding. But that doesn’t make me oblivious to the act of giving to your loved one. In those instances there is the occasional gift exchanged between us. Just like you, I’ll find myself browsing through lists of ideas featured on my favourite online retailer hoping some algorithms will give me the right answer, or searching for the right colour of whatever gadget they’ve asked for and that I’m sure will make them happy to receive. And don’t get me wrong, it is a great feeling to unwrap a package and discover what hides beneath it. But that joy soon wears out.
Now rewind to just a couple of decade ago and us running down the stairwell or driveway after we heard the postman pass by. Whose letter might we get that day? Who might have taken the time to think about us and share something personal?
Most of the letter I still possess are stacked away in a box wrapped with colourful satin ribbons. They are, perhaps, my most precious belongings. Sometimes, I go back to them. In an instant, I am laughing again, I am smiling, I am crying. I remember the love, the dedication, the gratitude between the author and me. I embark on a journey to the past, indulge in those treasured words, and savour the moment once again.
And of course, I am not the only one. Letters have helped thousands of men and women remain sane in the trenches, giving them hope, reminding them what made them human in the first place. They have been the content of books revealing the deep secrets of some of the greatest minds of our times – Beauvoir, Camus, Churchill, Austen, Kerouac, Freud, to name a few… The cathartic nature behind writing makes letters the most candid means of expression.
You may tell your loved one how you care about them every day – and you should keep doing so. But nothing beats the joy of reading those words on a well-crafted handwritten letter.
The absence of judging eyes creates a safe place for us to be honest and truly open up about our most cherished feelings. We break down the walls of shame, prejudice, fear and self-censorship to truly give, share, and allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
If time is the highest currency in today’s world, then why not give your Valentine’s your most precious asset – your time. That’s the true value of a letter. For a while, your time is not yours anymore – it’s theirs.
You’ll sit down, contemplate their face for a moment – is it their smile, their wink, their foolish face you like the most? You’ll remember what made you fall in love in the first place, what they were wearing, where they were standing, the first time they whispered in your ear. You’ll choose your words wisely because you want them to understand exactly what your love is all about. Your thoughts will be pondered with care because you’ll want to see that smile, that wink, that foolish face back again. Perhaps you’ll want them to shed a tear or two. That’s ok – we all love a good cry.
You’ll opt for your best pen (was it a present from them?) and special paper, soft. Who knows, you might even spray a bit of your cologne or perfume on top for that special touch. Your handwriting will be impeccable, at its best. You’ll probably write a draft or two before the final one on the good paper. No, you’re not a scrooge. You just want to make sure there’s no striking through – it should look like all those beautiful thoughtful words came out naturally, written as eloquently as your thoughts poured in.
You’ll probably still browse through the special Valentine’s section of your go-to online retailer and buy this year’s must-have, but it won’t matter anymore.
You have written them a letter. You will have given them your time, your dedication, your effort, your soul. And that will suffice, because, make no mistake, diamonds may be forever, but letters are the true jewels of the heart.
February 10, 2017
Actor John Wayne is credited to have said once “I never trust a man who doesn’t drink.” Fair point. But as a writer, what I really don’t trust are writers who prefer typing to cursive.
All writers I respect have one thing in common: they handwrite everything.
It’s a non-negotiable process for me and a mandatory exercise at my classes. If you want to type, you’ll do so after you have used your pen – or pencil, whichever you prefer.
Often, people tell me they keep facing the ticking cursor on their computer screens and can’t think of a word to type. I tell them one thing only: “Get yourself a pen and a notebook.”
Sure, the common ideal image of a writer is that of someone hitting hard on the keys of a vintage typewriter. But don’t let yourself be fooled by Hollywood’s nostalgia. Just look at history.
For as long as we’ve been human we’ve been communicating both verbally and with our hands. We’ve always told stories, as much as we’ve written them — well, sort of. The early adopted forms of pictograms and ideograms were nothing more than a need to communicate thoughts and stories so that they would last longer, so that they could be shared, so that they wouldn’t be forgotten.
In fact, recent research points to us being able to memorize better when we take notes by hand rather than when we type on our computers or mobile devices. There’s a connection between the motor skills of drawing a letter and the memory mark that process stamps on our brains. Keyboards, on the other hand, are all about the same movement – tap, tap, tap.
Other studies show cursive activates areas of the brain that typing doesn’t.
Five-year-olds who practice handwriting develop their neural activity to adult-like levels. In comparison, their peers who don’t write longhand don’t develop as much – according to the University of Indiana.
But there’s more. The distance between the computer screen, keyboard, and our hands prevents us from yielding the same creative writing results as cursive. There’s an intimate connection between the touch of the hand on a sheet of paper and our brains.
Haptics helps us open our subconscious and allow it to take over. When it comes to handwriting, it helps us channel more and possibly deeper ideas. It’s as though there is a direct line of communication between the depths of our soul and the edge of the pen. We barely think about the words. They simply, magically appear on the page.
The times I have surprised myself the most were moments after realizing what I had just written. No wonder psychologists advise writing to many of their patients suffering from traumas or recovering from addictions. It’s a cathartic medium that helps us express what we normally wouldn’t be able to rationalize. It uncovers our secrets and fears. It’s a safe, private moment, in a small world where only we, the pen, paper and our thoughts exist.
Just think about the last time you wrote or read an email as beautiful, meaningful and profound as your last handwritten letter. There’s no beating what comes naturally to us.
Sure, technology is there to make our life easier. But since when was the creative process an easy road to take?
And before you ask, yes, this text was originally handwritten.
February 3, 2017
It’s a way too familiar setup in Hollywood films: a talented writer, probably already with a successful book under their belt, simply can’t finish the next novel. They’re suffering from a writer’s block – an inner force majeure that prevents them from putting on the page the full brilliance of their craft.
Bullocks. I really don’t believe in writer’s block, and neither should you.
Don’t get me wrong. Writers struggle every day with the finding of the perfect word, the fine-tuning of a sentence, the pinning of the story’s structure. But most of all, writers face the battle against their insecurities, fears and inner demons. It’s an art that exposes us to family and strangers alike. It allows people into a secretive world of thoughts and feelings no one knew we possessed. It’s easy to indulge in self-censorship or plain excuses not to write. Fear is powerful.
I see writer’s block as the little devilish voice that tells us to fail. We should ignore that voice. But let’s put that fear on the side and be more technical.
Not finding the right word to describe your character is one thing. Not knowing what your character will do next is something completely different.
Here are some reasons as to why you may be experiencing writer’s block and some tips to solve it.
- Your character is not well formed
Go back to the drawing table, write a biography of your character. Where else in their life have they faced a similar issue, and have they solved it? What kind of actions would your character take now at this point in the plot?
- You have not outlined well enough
True: some writers don’t outline. That’s ok, it’s part of their process. But when faced with the trepidation of a blank page, it’s good to go back to your story and create a simple outline. Map out all the possible scenarios, go back to your character’s biography, be in their shoes.
- You are not writing routinely
Writing is like athletics: you can’t run the marathon without a rigorous daily practice. The more you write, the easier the flow, the more control you have. If you are not a full-time writer, set up a time in your day that is convenient for you to write. Write it down on your agenda and treat that appointment like any business meeting: you always show up.
- Take a break and trust yourself
The pressure of writing is real. Sometimes locking yourself up in an office is not the best solution. How often have you heard people saying they get their best ideas in unusual places and circumstances, such as while they shower? That’s because, for a moment, they relax and let their subconscious take over, as psychologist Ron Friedman found out. You know your story, it’s there within you, you just need to fish it. So change your workstation, go for a walk or a swim, invite friends for a cup of coffee, take a bus tour in your own city. Ideas and solutions will start flowing back soon.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to writing. If you are waiting for some divine inspiration to interfere, you may as well throw that manuscript into the fire because it just won’t get finished.
And if you can’t find the solution to your problem today, just keep writing. Write about anything. It doesn’t matter if it’s related to your story or not, just keep writing, like you would keep running until you crossed the finish line.
January 11, 2017
When you were requested at school to write an essay, you probably attempted at arguing with the teacher about how short it should actually be. Back then we thought, the shorter the easier.
What we didn’t know, of course, is that writing shorter texts is, in fact, more of a challenge than writing longer pieces. With fewer words, you must:
- convey the same message,
- present a structure,
- ensure it all makes sense and that no relevant information is left out.
You probably have heard a variation of:
“I would have written a shorter letter if I had had the time.”
It’s often connected to Mark Twain, but the origins of the saying date back to the 17th century and to French philosopher Blaise Pascal.
Regardless of its real origin, the truth contained in that sentence remains relevant. Particularly in a digital world, where people don’t actually read anymore – they simply scan.
So here are a few tips to help you make your writing more concise, simple, and thus, shorter.
Write in the present simple tense (“We are selling” -> “We sell”)
Use the active voice instead of the passive (“Made by us” -> “We make”)
Avoid the negative form (“It is not necessary” -> “It is unnecessary”)
When possible, use contractions (“We are” -> “We’re”)
Have one thought per sentence
Cut! Cut! Cut! Keep only the relevant information
If writing for the web, use links instead of explanations.
Another example of a misquoted literary genius is the six-word essay wrongfully attributed to Hemingway. It shows us how simple and short a story can be:
“For sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”
What else do you really need to know?
October 19, 2016
Here’s the thing about business storytelling: without emotional connection, you won’t get far.
A couple of weeks ago I was struggling with a very annoying cold that forced me to blow my nose every 10 minutes. It so happened I had to moderate a workshop of a very important client for three days during this period.
The thing about being ill is that it’s just a complete waste of your time and energy. You’re not present in the moment, as your attention is geared towards trying to control yet another sneeze while keeping your professional posture before your clients.
Let’s be honest: no one likes a sick person near them. Just the thought of one probably makes you squirm. So you now fully understand where I stood here.
As a storyteller strategist, I like leading my sessions with (you guessed it) stories. I usually avoid telling my own because I always feel I might come across as an egocentric. Plus, my vast experience in journalism was all about getting someone else’s story. Talking about others is so much easy.
But make no mistakes: sharing something personal with a stranger is the best immediate connection you can ever wish for.
So there I stood in front of some 16 participants all looking very eagerly at this storyteller. The event organizer had been promising them three days full of fun exercises and engaging revelations. And now I had to deliver it. Even though the only thing I was good for was to crawl back to bed with a cup of ginger tea and my laptop so that I could binge watch my favourite Netflix series until I fell asleep.
I had already planned a couple of ‘thank-yous’ and a joke – a giggle is my entrance to my audience’s hearts. I would then proceed with a listing of some of my most accomplished work to prove my expertise to the audience before me.
But as I got up from my seat, gripped to my Kleenex, and took my position, I decided to change the beginning of my presentation completely.
My audience needed a distraction from my running nose and clown-like voice. So I connected with them.
The purpose of the workshop was to talk about connecting to an audience. To use a common literary reference, why not showing instead of telling?
I shared small personal stories about who I was and what got me to stand before them on that day. I told them about my childhood dreams of becoming a ballerina, my adolescent vision of changing the world, and the reason I changed so much over the last few years.
I saw smiles, I saw facial expressions of recognition in themselves, I saw minds wondering to the deepest ends of their soul, recalling those sweet revealing moments that make us who we are.
And there it was: the human connection between me and this room of 16 strangers. I was ready to share. They were ready to listen. Now, I could lead. There was no more need to prove my expertise, because what happened in that room goes beyond that.
Think about it: do you listen to people about whom you don’t care? Do you take on board advice from experts who you just don’t get?
Once that bridge is built and the gate is open, there is only prosperity awaiting.
Here’s my tip for you: be human for a day. Try it. You might just like it.
May 26, 2016
How to write stories, people ask me constantly. In fact, every time I start a new class, the most common argument among my students over the years has been “I can’t write.”
“Bollocks,” I tell them as I warn them that kind of language will not be tolerated in my classroom. Swearing, however, is always welcome. You can swear as much as you like, but you can’t tell me you can’t do something as intrinsically human as writing.
I’m not talking about the act of putting down words together. I’m talking about telling a story. Any story.
Surely you were forced to write about your summer at some point in school. And you have written personal letters or emails to loved ones too, where you shared feelings and emotions. See, you can write.
The thing is, you may not be a Lorca, Austen, or Wilde – don’t worry, most of us aren’t – but you have stories to share. And that’s where it all begins.
Only you see the world through your eyes. Only you experience life in that manner. Only you have lived the way you have. You know of your pains, your joys, your lessons. That’s uniquely and exclusively to you. So you have a story to tell. The only hindrance you may face is ‘how to put it on paper.’
Writing is not solely based on talent. There’s a large share of technique attached to it. And a lot of practice too.
Think of marathon runners. They may have the legs and the stamina, but they still need to practice every day to build up on their resilience, to improve their technique, and be able to cross the finishing line as a winner.
Writers are no different. Daily – or at least frequent – practice is a must. And yes, there are tricks of the trade that enable you to translate your thoughts and emotions onto paper. Nothing comes to you as a divine inspiration. You must work at it and for it too.
The first step is to have an idea of what it is that you want to tell. Write down a few points you want to make. A list good enough at this stage. Now you have your story. All you have to do is write it.
I know, starting is always the hardest part. So here’s a trick for you.
Right on the top of your blank page write: “What I want to say is…” and take it from there. Write away. Even what doesn’t seem to make any sense. Typos are allowed. Censorship is not part of this game. Editing will have its turn to shine. But hey, you’re writing!
May 23, 2016
Let’s cut right into it: storytelling is nothing new.
True, you may hear the term more often now during coffee-breaks at conventions and networking events as you take bites at those delicious canapés. And your colleagues may well be trying to impress someone when they say the ‘hero’s journey’ is the hot-thing right now. But they’re right. It is the trend and it should be.
We have been telling stories forever. Surely your family has a favourite one which you once told at some dinner – and you have no clue anymore what it was about. But they remember it. Maybe not all the details, maybe not even the story itself. But they remember the emotion you caused and how your words impacted them. In that moment – just like every time you tell a joke or reminisce about old stories – you created a human connection.
While we are not reinventing the wheel, by using storytelling technique we are bringing some soul back into communication. We are exchanging thoughts and ideas between humans. We are no longer forcing our messages to our audiences, we are opening up to them, sharing with them, talking to them, awakening emotions that bring us together.
Who you are as an entrepreneur, brand or company is as just as important as the product or service you have on offer. Your audience wants to know you, how you got the idea, where it all came from.
We want to feel inspired by your business, not lured into it.
How often after watching a TEDx talk you went to check that person’s business? That engagement only happened because the speaker caused an emotion in you, and established a connection with you.
So here’s my writer tip for you: get a pen and a notepad. Picture yourself and your business as a film. Write down that opening scene, and share with your audience the beginning of that journey. Spoilers are permitted – just this once.