Story

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CASE: M-323 (A)
DATE: 8/23/09

HOW TO TELL A STORY (A)
From an instant to eternity, from the intracranial to the intergalactic, the life story of each and every character offers encyclopedic possibilities. The mark of a master is to select only a few moments but give us a lifetime. —Robert McKee1

Stories are all around us. Stories move us, make us feel alive, inspire us to be more than we would be otherwise. As famed screenwriting coach and author of the screenwriting bible, Story, McKee says: “Story is not only our most prolific art form, but rivals all activities—work, play, eating, exercise—for our waking hours. We tell and take in stories as much as we sleep—and even then we dream.”2 Our appetite for stories is a reflection of the basic human need to understand patterns of life — not merely as an intellectual exercise but as a personal, emotional experience. Alexander Steele, in Writing Fiction argues that we need stories as we need food. “Our curiosity, and perhaps insecurity, compels us to continually explore the who, what, where, when, and why of our existence. Some call this lofty goal a search for Truth.”3 Learning how to tell a story cannot guarantee the reaching of Truth, but it can help you connect with your audience, move your audience, and make your material more memorable. Despite our love for stories, most of us leave stories to “storytellers,” artists in the storymaking fields such as fiction writing, screenwriting, and movie making. In general, we passively take in their stories and are moved by the end product. But how many of us do not put much thought into how those stories are made, perhaps because we do not see the benefit of stories beyond 1

Ibid, p. 31.
Robert McKee, Story, (Regan Books: 1997), p. 11.
3
Alexander Steele, editor, Writing Fiction, (Bloomsbury, New York), 2003, p. 2. 2

Victoria Chang prepared this case under the supervision of Professor Jennifer Aaker as the basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation. Contributors include Oren Jacob and Justine Jacob. Special thanks to Dana Maurello and Jamess Forrest.

Copyright © 2009 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, e-mail the Case Writing Office at: cwo@gsb.stanford.edu or write: Case Writing Office, Stanford Graduate School of Business, 518 Memorial Way, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5015. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any means –– electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise –– without the permission of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

How to Tell a Story: M-323 (A)

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entertainment? But what if we could move beyond PowerPoint slides and Microsoft Word memos and instead harnessed the energy of a story?
Traditionally, business people persuade using only the left side of the brain, or reason. However, persuasion occurs, just as much (if not more) through emotion. By developing the right side of the brain, engagement can be better built through “uniting an idea with an emotion.”4 And the best way to do this is by telling a compelling story.

THE ELEMENTS OF STORYTELLING
People are natural storytellers. “Stories have been implanted in you thousands of times since your mother took you on her knee. You’ve read good books, seen movies, attended plays. What’s more, human beings naturally want to work through stories. Cognitive psychologists describe how the human mind, in its attempt to understand and remember, assembles the bits and pieces of experience into a story, beginning with a personal desire, a life objective, and then portraying the struggle against the forces that block that desire.”5 However, this does not mean that telling stories is easy. Learning the basic elements of...
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